Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Scarlet, So What?0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press (Friday September 29, 2006 at 7:11 pm)

Since one-time Conservative leadership candidate Belinda Stronach crossed the floor to the Liberals, she’s endured a great deal of criticism. The Frosty Wonk hasn’t shied from that, where it was due, but not over one issue: her personal life.

There was a revolting series of stories over the end of her relationship with Tory Peter MacKay, during which he childishly played victim over the relationship; speculation over subsequent relationships bizarrely continued to command attention; and now, the possibility that she was having a relationship with former Maple Leaf brawler Tie Domi commands press attention as Domi goes through a divorce.

Whether they were seeing each other or not isn’t important, and neither is whether it contributed to the divorce. Don’t lose sight of the fact that it takes two to tango — if there was a relationship, both parties had to consent. And that’s the point — it was Domi’s marriage to maintain, not anyone else’s.

But wouldn’t it be wrong to have an affair with someone — to help them break their wedding vows? Ignoring Chaucer’s contribution to the subject, there is the messy fact that adultery isn’t a crime anymore.

So unless they think the scarlet letter is an L, why does the media build the story up to the point where Ms Stronach is forced to publically discuss her involvement in private relationships?

Now that’s where the shame should be allocated.

The Thin End of Irresponsibility0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk (Friday September 29, 2006 at 5:57 pm)

Citing two reasons, the Liberal Party of Canada declared its investigation into instant membership sales by Michael Ignatieff’s camapign at an end. The reasons:

  • They were unable to contact the individual making the allegations
  • The allegations were made after the deadline for challenges to memberships

Think about that for a moment, then remember what the allegations were:

  • Paying for memberships, which isn’t allowed
  • Enrolling dead members

As Liberal Party National Director Steve MacKinnon acknoweldged, the controversy stemmed from the submission of a list of 60 members from another member. Mr. MacKinnon claimed to be unaware at the time whether the submission was intended as a challenge. Which makes perfect sense. Surely, having seen the recent furor over the release of membership lists by the Rae and Dion campaigns, the submitter merely decided that the list would be safer in the Party’s hands than lying around his home. So you see, there is a perfectly plausible explanation for a member of the Party to submit a list of members’ names other than challenging those members’ valid registration. Surely that explains Mr. MacKinnon’s difficulty in explaining the situation.

Michael Ignatieff’s Director of Operations, Sachin Aggarwal, speculated that the fact that a registered member was dead stemmed from the member having purchased a five-year membership in 2004, dying in the interim, and not being removed from the list. Mr. Aggarwal saw no reason to explain why a member who signed up in 2004 would have been submitted on a list by the Ignatieff camp unless he had been identified by that camp as a supporter. Which would further question how a man purchasing a membership a year before Mr. Ignatieff decided to return to Canada (or Paul Martin’s resignation) could have identified himself as a pro-Ignatieff member?

But surely if the party was interested in investigating, it could simply have called the members impugned to confirm what had happened, just as it called Mr. Kunz.

But surely if the party had contacted Mr. Kunz it wouldn’t have made a difference, since it was, as they said, after the “challenge” date, and, like a statute of limitations, fraudulent rule-breaking makes no difference if you can wait the deadline out.

But surely if the challenge deadline had already passed, Mr. MacKinnon would have been able to tell the media that on Tuesday, rather than three days later.

But surely if the deadline was part of the rules (which everyone knew), someone waited until pretty close to the deadline to publicise the allegations about Volpe’s campaign.

But surely if the information was released at the last minute and others with information of similar abuses were holding back in the hopes that their own abuses wouldn’t be exposed, it would be too late for those attacked to respond.

The Chilly Wonk would call bullshit, if the target could really be determined. But that’s the beauty of the situation. It’s exactly ike Mr. Volpe’s refusal to pay the fine the Party seeks to assess for his campaign’s proven improper member registrations. Part of his case will unquestionably be the assessing committee’s concession that neither Volpe himself nor his senior officials were aware of the problem.

If you don’t know who to blame, it can be hard to properly deal with wrongdoing. It stands to reason then, that without anyone in particular to blame, the Party can’t be held responsible for the inability to inculcate respect for the hard rules (let alone ethics) among its membership (let alone leadership). The wider you spread it, it seems, the greater the benefits of irresponsibility.

Better Living Through Long Division0

Posted by JJ in Vague Check, Brass Tacks (Wednesday September 27, 2006 at 6:00 am)

If you’re going to study policy arguments, here’s an example of a superb approach.

Canadian Tourism Commission Vice-President Andrew Clark makes an argument for keeping his agency’s (CTC’s) funding at existing levels:

“We believe that in North America, every sales-and-marketing dollar brings in $10 in tourism revenue,” said commission vice-president Andrew Clark.

In 2003, Canada took in $10.5 Billion US in tourism. That figure rose to $12.8 Billion in 2004. In 2003, CTC’s marketing and sales expenses were $87 Million Canadian. That figure declined to $71 Million in 2004. Mr. Clark might not be wrong about the ratio, but it’s clear that CTC’s expenditures aren’t strictly correlated with revenue.

But then, there are reasons to doubt his claim. On page 29 of the CTC’s latest annual report, it claims a return on investment of between 19 and 173 percent for three of its programs. That’s not quite the 900 percent return he claims for each tourism dollar; but let’s give the man the benefit of the doubt and assume that the annual report listed only the lowest-yielding programs. After all, who wants to be a braggart.

It’s a great line, though. And who can blame him for lobbying for his agency’s funding?

The Smile Test1

Posted by JJ in Brass Tacks (Tuesday September 26, 2006 at 8:18 pm)

It’s not the sense of entitlement which spurs demands for consultation on budget cuts but happily accepts disbursements without the same. It’s the fact that sometimes these cuts are justified and sometimes they’re not. Maintaining spending, contrary to the NDP’s charge, is every bit as ideological as cutting it.

But since debate, with or without formal Parliamentary approval (which, incidentally, was given under “cutting spending — $1 Billion” in the budget), won’t go much beyond the names of programs, the Chilly Wonk proposes a new approach: the smile test.

It’s simple. If the sarcastic defense of the program is more laughable than the serious defense, the program shouldn’t be cut. If the serious defense is more laughable, cut that program!

Without further ado, let’s give it a spin on the programs listed by the Globe and Mail:

$50-million: Elimination of unused funding for Northwest Territories devolution

Sarcastic
If we don’t leave unused funding for no one to use, no one will say how much good the government does.
Serious
Unused funding can earn interest if invested — that’s called prudent financial management.

$4-million: End to medical-marijuana science funding

Sarcastic
The government’s only been offering funding for this stuff since 1999. Stoner scientists can’t come up with a two-page research proposal that quickly.
Serious
We should continue to research medicinal uses for a substance whose criminalization had no scientific basis to begin with. Alcohol and tobacco are both more dangerous and more widely used. Was nothing learned from all those prohibition-era gangster movies?

$78.8-million: End to program that gave GST rebates to tourists

Sarcastic
Foreign visitors need a 6% rebate off our notoriously low, low, low Canadian prices!
Serious
A program designed to rebate a small portion of hotel taxes and 6% off goods exported from Canada is crucial to attracting visitors to Canada.

$11.7-million: Removal of unused funds for mountain pine beetle initiative

Sarcastic
What about all that unused initiative? Who’s going to fund that?
Serious
The mountain pine beetle could be regrouping, and the government won’t be able to come up with $11.7 million dollars when the time comes.

$46.8-million: Smaller cabinet announced in February

Sarcastic
Fewer Cabinet members means less patronage — how’s that going to affect the unemployment rate?
Serious
Fewer Cabinet members means more centralised control — how’s that going to affect consultation?

$45-million: “Efficiencies” in Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation

Sarcastic
You can’t possibly find inefficiencies in a cross between a landlord, a regulatory agency, and an insurance company with $101 Billion in assets and net income of $1 Billion.
Serious
This is the body that’s been steadily reducing required downpayments for new homes, helping to inflate housing prices beyond the average Canadian’s reach while following its mandate of providing more affordable housing for Canadians? You can’t cut that — it’s win-win.

$4.25-million: Consolidation of foreign missions

Sarcastic
If you don’t know the difference between Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, don’t you at least think the government should?
Serious
The absence of a more local Canadian presence will make it harder for us to maintain our international prestige.

$13.9-million: Cancellation of National Defence High-Frequency Surface Wave Radar Project

Sarcastic
Will the government be able to come up with another way to subsidize the oil industry in time to cash in on the current boom in prices?
Serious
Isn’t it about time the Canadian government developed some kind of military technology, if only to boost research and employment opportunities?

$6.5-million: Elimination of funding for the Centre for Research and Information on Canada

Sarcastic
Canadians don’t know much about Canada; and we don’t fund enough groups to talk about national unity.
Serious
The Centre’s work is important to the fight against regionalism.

$4.6-million: Cuts to museum assistance

Sarcastic
There’s no way wealthy museum patrons nationwide can come up with that kind of money.
Serious
If you don’t offer exhibit-by-exhibit funding for Canadian-themed exhibits, they won’t be set up.

$5-million: Administrative reductions to Status of Women Canada

Sarcastic
Without Status of Women Canada funding, women won’t have status. We’re giving women $5 Million less status than they had before.
Serious
This organisation funds research on gender issues. $5 Million is too much to cut from the gender issue studies funded by this department, not including those funded by myriad other departments not solely dedicated to the gender issue.

$6-million: Operational efficiencies at the Canada Firearms Centre

Sarcastic
Contrary to what multiple audits suggested, there just isn’t any way to improve this agency’s performance.
Serious
The Canada Firearms Centre has consistently demonstrated higher fiscal needs than expected. $6 Million can’t be denied it.

$4.2-million: Cuts to Law Commission of Canada

Sarcastic
It’s not as though we pay Parliamentarians to review the law and propose legal reforms.
Serious
We can’t trust Parliamentarians to review law and propose legal reforms.

$15-million Elimination of residual funding for softwood-lumber trade litigation

Sarcastic
You can’t stop people from suing other people just because they’ve agreed to a settlement!
Serious
The threat of renewed litigation just might make the Americans think twice about trying something else.

$4.6-million: Elimination of the RCMP drug-impaired-driving program’s training budget

Sarcastic
RCMP officers aren’t paid enough to learn how to drive while drug-impaired on their own.
Serious
If you don’t train police officers to deal with impaired driving potentially due to drugs, they’ll have to just arrest individuals for dangerous driving and won’t be able to issue stiffer Criminal sanctions easily.

$5.6-million: Elimination of Court Challenges Program

Sarcastic
Shouldn’t the government be paying lawyers to test programs through litigation, rather than by hiring them to evaluate their weaknesses to begin with?
Serious
Without government funding, some crucial cases on rights would never be contested.

So, how’d they do?

Shockingly Routine0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Strategic Planning, Golden Tacks (Monday September 25, 2006 at 2:28 pm)

Some saw Liberal leadership candidate Joe Volpe’s latest scandal as evidence of his campaign’s lack of ethics and his personal unsuitability for leadership. Those folks just haven’t been paying attention. These conclusions have been hard to question since early June.

What the emergence of details of “phoney” memberships attributed to Volpe in Quebec and the subsequent allegations of similar abuses by the Ignatieff campaign in Toronto prove is how meaningless the party’s earlier pledges to clamp down on the abuses which characterized previous races were.

If the system were working (or even capable of doing so), it wouldn’t take complaints by those improperly enrolled to draw the party’s attention. It’s simply implausible to suggest that the party can ensure payments come from the private individuals alleged without contacting them directly and personally through impartial party staff.

There are just two problems with such a scheme. There’s no reason why those contacted couldn’t lie, especially if they’re drawn from the large group of potential members who don’t care about the party but have a load of fun at the sponsored drinking events. Enrolling the dead might be more problematic, but a fake contact could always claim the missing member was “out of the country”. Without a serious tracking effort, these meagre efforts would stymie any attempt to validate memberships.

And those attempts are the other problem. Most impartial party officials, like unicorns, were drowned in the Biblical flood. If you don’t believe in the Bible, what makes you believe in impartial political officials? Most full-time operators get their posts by being connected with power brokers in the party. Many are elected in circumstances similar to the leadership process (and often connected with it). That’s just one reason to doubt Quebec riding officials’ claims that abuses were limited to a single candidate’s campaign.

Simply put, it’s no surprise that rules are being broken. The party has become experienced at thundering speech, signifying nothing. And that’s just what’s been done to deal with underlying problems. Even if those problems could be solved, the system encourages a “race to the bottom”, where the advantage to be gained by breaking the rules means that no serious candidate can risk not doing so.

All of which goes to show why another purported violation is about as meaningful as the word “impartial” to the leadership race. Polls of members and membership lists don’t much matter when the members really don’t have control. Masses of undead voters and disinterested, easily-bought instant members can do that. The fact that Ignatieff is tied for first place among “members” doesn’t mean he can’t still produce a share of elected delegates wildly disproportionate from that of his top competitor.

The party’s claim that it must protect members’ privacy rings hollow for similar reasons. The distribution of that information through the party is too broad to reasonably believe that any degree of privacy can be maintained. Volunteers and hired call centres alike will have access to name and contact information — and neither is scrutinized heavily by the party. Merely making leadership candidates responsible for leaks isn’t going to stop them from relying on either; and it’s hard to believe that, in such circumstances, they will realy be in a position to control abuses.

The real reason why the release of lists is such a serious violation is that it might compromise the party itself. What might the media discover, given the means to verify the party’s alleged memberships and the guts to unveil the abuses that the party’s purportedly democratic process allow to violate its essential quality?

But would the public care? Probably not. Unethical behaviour in politics is something they consider routine; and it is, despairingly, to them that it falls to demand more.

Prologue — Bases Unloaded0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning, Golden Tacks (Thursday September 21, 2006 at 10:57 pm)

With the first real signs of the result of the Liberal Party of Canada’s Leadership campaign imminent, there’s good reason to revisit what’s at stake. For Liberals warming to the idea that they might retake Parliament sooner than expected, it’s important to think about how to do just that; and that task demands that they know where they stand.

Electoral support comes in two flavours: base and bonus. Base supporters are groups who feel so deep a connection with a party that their support tends to follow the party from election to election. Bonus supporters are attracted to a party by the position they assume by siding with it in a given election, whether because they identify with policies or want to distinguish themselves from other parties. Elections focus on both groups, but in different ways.

It’s virtually impossible to change your base during a campaign, but it is possible to motivate them. If you can get them excited enough about your chances, they become more likely to vote and encourage others on your behalf. If you alienate them, they’re likely to sit out.

Bonus voters are where there’s an opportunity to make real gains in support during a campaign. A masterful riposte during a debate, a well-chosen policy, or serious gaffes can turn these voters quickly; and without loyal starting positions, they may shift alleigances many times before the race is run.

Obviously, it’s easier to win with a large base than with lots of bonus voters. What isn’t so easy is building a base large enough to make it that much easier. The more people you add to your supporters, the harder it becomes to reconcile some differences and put off making choices between competing groups on others. Building a base means careful work over time, both in government and out. That’s why being in “campaign mode” while in government may or may not be a valid criticism. Campaigning to motivate the base isn’t very useful in office. But campaigning to fold other groups into your base is the most politically useful thing you can do. The problem is that it’s not the same kind of campaign you fight to win them over, come election time.

But enough of the obvious. Why all the fuss? It’s crucial to understanding where the Liberals now stand. So is looking back a bit.

In two elections against Brian Mulroney, the Liberal Party took around 30% of the popular vote. In 1993, the Liberals began the election polled at around 37%, not far from either the Tory total or their performance in the previous election (31%). Most interestingly, while Tory support dwindled in polls from 35% to 16%, Liberal suport rose only to 41%. While 4% of difference, concentrated in Eastern Canada, was enough to assure them of a commanding 177 seats in the 295 seat House of Commons, the Bloc Quebecois nearly doubled and the Reform Party more than doubled that theft of support, rising by 6% and 9% respectively.

Equally telling in 1993, though, was the decline in voter turnout from previous campaigns. From 1957 onward, only two elections drew less than three quarters of voters: Trudeau’s 1974 and 1980 Liberal majority governments, both of which came within two years of the previous election. Voter turnout dropped from 75.3% in 1988 to 70.9% in 1993. Had voter turnout remained roughly constant, the Tory base should have grown by 450,000 voters. That number, 3.2% of the total votes cast, couldn’t have defeated the Liberals (even if it remained loyal), but is so close to the growth in Liberal support during the campaign that it should illustrate the significance of demotivating your base, assuming that these were mostly alienated Tory voters.

1997 saw a further 3.9% decline in voter turnout, leading to nearly 700,000 fewer votes being cast than during the previous election — nearly the precise total lost by the Liberals in going from 5,647,952 to 4,994,277. The Liberals stood pat in British Columbia (six), Prince Edward Island (four), and the Northwest Territories (two), gained six seats in Quebec, and lost seats in every other province save one. While the Liberal total increased by three seats in Ontario, that province gained four seats in that election, meaning that proportionately, the party took fewer seats than in 1993.

The 1997 losses were largely ascribed to the public outcry over the Liberals’ failure to remove the hated Goods and Services Tax — widely regarded as the most important of their 1993 campaign promises. The correlation between the decline in turnout and in Liberal support would tend to support that conclusion. Moreso when you consider that the Liberal total would have been within about 5% of the same total vote had their supporters increased in line with the general population from 1988 to 1997.

Most of the Liberals’ gains retained in 1997 could therefore be attributed to natural growth of their base, and most of their loss to the loss of bonus voters gained in 1993, attracted to a position opposing the Tories and the GST alike. This is especially likely considering that the GST question was more an incidental policy than a central aspect of the party. But notice two things. The expected growth in the base accounted for almost all of the Liberals’ retained voters from 1993, suggesting that the Liberals either took little advantage of the opportunity to expand their base, or did, and alienated part of their existing base in the process. More importantly, though, there was no indication that the 5% of voters who failed to show in 1993 had returned.

The 2000 election provided the Liberals with an excellent opportunity to regain ground. They were faced with a clownish and unskilled opposition leader, who provided significant political fodder even for non-partisan observers. The Liberal vote grew, but only by 250,000 votes or so to 5,252,031. That growth is more significant when considering that turnout declined once more, falling by 2.9%.

But capturing a larger share of a smaller pie when confronted with lackluster opposition doesn’t inspire much confidence. The Liberals gained only eleven seats from party standings just prior to the election, of which eight came from recovery of seats in the Maritimes. Only three provinces posted real seat gains — one apiece in Saskatchewan and the Yukon (not technically a province, true) and the remainder in Quebec.

Most importantly, more voters had been alienated, though not only by Liberals, and those voters frightened into voting Liberal by the prospect of a Creationist Prime Minister might just have come from the New Democrats’ stock of bonus voters. That party lost roughly 300,000 votes between elections, largely in the Maritimes, where the Liberals picked up most seats, while the combined totals of the Alliance and rump Progressive Conservatives lost 170,000.

In short, the Liberals relied on bonus voters again in 2000, showing no evidence of real growth in their base constituency over the previous twelve years. This lack of growth becomes all the more important when considering that the total number of eligible voters grew by 1.6 Million between 1997 and 2000.

And now, the interesting parts.

In 2004, voter turnout dropped to the lowest ebb in Canadian history, to 60.9%. Nevertheless, the total number of voters rose, due to the continuing growth of the electorate.

In those circumstances, and faced with the fallout of the sponsorship scandal in Quebec, the Liberals lost 33 seats and majority status, but lost only about as many votes (300,000) as they’d gained in 2000. What happened? Had the turnout been as low in 2000, 570,000 fewer votes would have been cast. Consider that the PC party was merged with the Alliance to create the new Tory party.

The PCs polled 1.6 Million votes in 2000, and the Alliance 3.2 Million. In 2004, the “combined” total came to 3.9 Million — a gain of 720,000. Combine that with the fact that the Green party gained 480,000 votes, and the possibility of alienated PC and Liberal voters sitting the campaign out helps to explain the drop in turnout. Once again, Liberal electoral support didn’t drift very far from earlier results.

Everything changed in 2006. Voter turnout rose by four percent — this was the first election to meet and exceed the number of votes cast in 1993 (by roughly 1 Million votes — exactly the growth in the Tory vote over their take in 2004), despite over a decade of population growth in the intervening three elections. And the Liberal vote total declined by nearly half a million.

It’s almost certain that the Liberals picked up few additional bonus voters in 2006 — their polls showed declining support; but more significantly, the numbers suggest little growth in the base. The voting population grew by 29.5% between 1988 and 2006. Had the Liberal numbers grown at a comparable rate, they would have taken 5.4 Million votes in 2006, a much more competitive result.

Stop for a moment and think about that. In 1988, the Liberals trailed badly and lost. Had they been only as popular among the general voting population in 2006 as they had been in 1988 (that is — losers), they would have done better by nearly a million votes. That’s not good. The increase in votes cast roughly matched the Tory gains. The rebound in voter turnout did nothing for the Liberals.

All of which is not to suggest that all 4.2 Million Liberal voters in 1988 were base support — they were, of course, a combination of base and bonus voters. The point is that the Liberals were the only party with a degree of continuity over that time, which could have been an opportunity to work on their base.

Impossible? Certainly not — Mackenzie King began an era of Liberal government in 1921 that was interrupted only twice — by a two-month Conservative government in 1926 and a narrow loss at the outset of the depression in 1930 — until it ended in 1957 — a span of 36 years over which the growth in Liberal votes regularly outperformed the growth in overall voting population.

Twice the length of time? True. But 1988-2006 was both a long enough stretch and a large enough change in the number of voters (+30%) to expect more growth in Liberal numbers than 10% or so from a fundamentally worse performance in 1988 (83 seats of 295 in 1988 versus 103 seats of 308 in 2006). The degree of stability over the 36-year span was comparable to that over the 18-year span. There is no evidence of growth in the Liberal base, and much evidence of relying on poor opposition and demonised opponents to swing bonus voters to their position. Short term, that can be a successful strategy. Long-term it’s a recipe for a drawn-out and gradual death.

And that’s what the Liberals have to worry about. The idea that drooping poll numbers for the Tories will translate into a Liberal chance at forming government will dangerously distract party members from the hard question: what should we do to grow our base?

Leadership contests aren’t good opportunities for that kind of discussion because they’re so highly focused on an appeal to the existing base. Moving from that to a snap election won’t help things any. As Liberals move towards choosing the delegates who will vote for their next leader, they need to consider how to grow the party, not simply how to attract a few bonus voters in 2007 or 2008.

Working on building the base could ultimately lead the party back to the easier dominance it had in its glory days, rather than into another sequence of lurching and desperate elections. The first question for Liberals, then, should not be changed to “how do we win the next election” in the light of favorable short-term polling. It must still be “how do we grow our base again,” if they’re serious about political power.

Bored over Lord0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Vague Check, A Picture of Loyalty (Tuesday September 19, 2006 at 11:53 pm)

Some said that Graham, compared to Lord,
Is such a man’s to be ignored.
Whilst others said that, Lord to Graham,
Is as exciting as a clam.
Strange that such diff’rence should be
‘Twix Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Last time their parties fit the fight
‘Twas Lord was smiling, come the night.
This time around Lord stood and cried
In face of Graham’s ruddy tide.
Strange that such diff’rence should be
From numbers only off by three.

They stood, on 8/13 of six,
At forty-five to forty-six.
With two weeks more time to decide,
‘Twas forty-six on every side.
Strange that such diff’rence should be
With so much time to make their plea.

Graham says that voters made a choice
To change their leaders’ look and voice
The papers say that very thing
To give the tale a catchy ring.
Strange that such diff’rence should be
‘Twix saying and reality.

The men and ladies at the polls
Were set a task to play their roles.
With both sides’ rush to snag the same
Did either make a diff’rent claim?
Strange that such diff’rence should be
‘Twix tax cut A and tax cut B.

Graham roars to fill the scant divide
Which keeps him on one Commons side,
While raggish journals feed the flame
Lest voters think they toil in vain.
Strange that such diff’rence should be
‘Twix journalist and reportee.

When one is in and ‘tother out,
The ousted half has cause to shout
Before they make their grand return
And hear the first half wail in turn.
Strange that such diff’rence should be
‘Twix middle-haw and middle-gee.

But ev’ry gram of lordly flair
Can’t tell what’s yon from what’s out there.
Much less the reason that the kind
Of middling leaders we should mind.
Strange that such diff’rence should be
‘Twix Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

*With thanks and acknowledgement to John Byrom

A World in Need of a Word, Indeed0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Doubletake/Doubletalk, Crossroads of Culture (Monday September 18, 2006 at 11:41 pm)

Encore une fois, chers lecteurs, it is I, Dr. Glaucon Equipoise, humble handmaid to hale and hearty rhetoric. It is rare that either you or I find ourselves at a loss for words. So, under the circumstances, I thought it only right to call on my good friend, the Hard-Rimed Wonk, to indulge us all.

I noticed, recently, that the Wonk had described a certain spiritual leader’s remarks as hypocritical. Being somewhat hyper-critical of poor word use, I sat down to rack my adjective-riddled mind for a better choice. A cursory glance at the meaning of hypocrisy should explain the origins of my conundrum:

The practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behaviour does not conform; pretense.

Which is plainly inadequate to describe the real rhetorical sin in question:

Knowingly and falsely ascribing to another the fault which, in your act of ascription, you reveal yourself to have.

True, meine freunde, one engaged in such shameful dialogue may well be a hypocrite; but this is not necessarily true. After all, such a one has neither necessarily denied that the fault is a fault nor denied that they are faulty themselves.

While the focus of hypocrisy is self-conflicting behaviour, the focus here is on condemning others. What is more, in this scenario the claim is patently false and, consequentially, either fraudulent or foolish. A hypocrite need not say anything of others, nor is their professed standard necessarily false. It is that their behaviour is self-contradictory, which may arise from fraudulence or from forgetfulness; and the only party truly tainted is the hypocrite himself.

It is a thing of this sort that concerns me so:

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said recent remarks by the Pope on Islam were in line with what he called a “crusade” against Muslims.
The background to the controversy, he said, was the “wish of powers whose survival depends on creating crises”.
. . .
Ayatollah Khamenei said the remarks by Pope Benedict XVI last Tuesday were the “latest link” in “the chain of a conspiracy to set in train a crusade”.

The Pope’s remarks were ably referenced by the Wonk in the article I cited above. Since those remarks were in specific condemnation of all violence committed in the name of religion, claiming that they are part of a conspiracy to incite a religious war is a form of nonsense reasonable only to those who have not read the speech and those who wish to believe in spite of what they know. Augustine’s thought on the relationship between the two was different, and has so far proven the more durable approach.

The Ayatollah’s remarks were made by a religious leader who depends on the continued presence of external threats (the Shah, Iraq, and the Great Satan) to maintain an iron grip on political power and the ideology of his countrymen.

For all these reasons, hypocrisy does not suffice. Words, we cruelly see, fail us.

But we need not fail ourselves, and I turn to that for comfort. I suggest that the repeated appearance of this practice demands that it be named. For which, thanks to the Wonk, I have an avenue of hope.

I propose that we develop a word suitable for the purpose. “Projection”, a term used in psychology, is too neutral and closely bound up with personality to be truly useful for the purpose, but could serve as a useful base. So might hypocritical, if suitably “pimped”. A few preliminary thoughts:

Extrojerk
Too cute at first, but is the adjectival “extrojerkic” not more satisfyingly technical?
Pseudojectial
It captures the sense of falsehood and projection, but does it trip lightly from the tongue?
Khameneic
Not without precedents, but should the word suggest that he was the progenitor?
Analeithic
Seldom can I play with Attic roots — Grazie, Wonk.
Paralious
Why not?

Feel free, by way of the Wonk’s commentary facilities, to judge or add your own. I suspect that with your considerable skills, an answer lies close at hand. To comment, simply click the number to the right of this article’s title.

Until we meet again, O Readers of Wonkisms, bear in mind the words of Antonio Porchia:

What words say does not last. The words last. Because words are always the same, and what they say is never the same.*

*Voces, 1943, translated from Spanish by W.S. Merwin

Power or Faith0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Crossroads of Culture (Friday September 15, 2006 at 11:20 pm)

Pope Benedict XVI’s lecture this week on reason and faith had a barb in its tail. To introduce the problem of violence committed in the name of faith, he quoted a 14th century document, translated by Adel Theodore Khoury, a serious scholar of Christian/Muslim relations. In the document, the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus contended that Islam added nothing positive to the faiths which had inspired it.

Naturally, this kicked off protests and the kind of spontaneous demonstrations which show precisely how poorly the general population of the Muslim world appreciates the Pope’s influence (and how much attention gets paid to his many speaking engagements) and how eager their leaders are to maintain unity through external threats:

“This is a new crusade against the Arab Islamic world. It comes in different forms, in cartoons or lectures … they hate our religion,” Ismail Radwan, a local Hamas official, told the rally.

Which shows precisely how committed Mr. Radwan is to bringing the Pope’s words to his people. After all, what speech condemning violence in the name of religion isn’t a call for a crusade?

But it’s precisely this utterly unselfconscious approach to one’s own words that lies at the heart of the just condemnation of what the Pope said:

“One would expect a religious leader such as the pope to act and speak with responsibility and repudiate the Byzantine emperor’s views in the interests of truth and harmonious relations between the followers of Islam and Catholicism,” said Muhammad Abdul Bari, the [British Muslim Council’s] secretary-general.

One can’t naively believe that the uncritical use of such remarks, however incidental, is acceptable — the more so because they were incidental. The use of that particular quotation was not crucial to the point, however much it was the quotation that set the Pope to thinking on the subject. Had he merely mentioned the document and left off there, it seems unlikely that any of the few hundred attending the lecture at the University of Regensburg would have bothered to look up the reference and consider the possibility of its being offensive. After all, it was likely the media coverage pointing out the potential problems with the speech which drew attention to it in the first place (no complaints were voiced until a full two days had passed, one day after the first stories appeared). It seems unlikely that Hamas officials and Iraqi Imams make a routine practice of scrutinizing encyclicals.

But Mr. Radwan’s response is hardly better. If he believes it, he hasn’t read the speech; and that bodes ill. If he doesn’t believe it, there’s a serious problem of unselfconscious misrepresentation — a disappointing sign of deceptive techniques for exploitation following so closely on promising undertakings in the genuine interest of the Palestinian people.

Still, the prize for self-interested disregard for inherent inconsistency must go to Iraqi Sheik Abdul-Kareem al-Ghazi:

“The pope and Vatican proved to be Zionists and that they are far from Christianity, which does not differ from Islam. Both religions call for forgiveness, love and brotherhood.”

And Sheik al-Ghazi proved to be closer to the pope he envisions than to love and brotherhood. After all, bigotry is bigotry, and “Zionist” as an epithet can only produce this kind of hypocrisy from those who value their own power over forgiveness, peace, and faith in the divine.

39:1 Take 2 In P-4: Crime0

Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning (Thursday September 14, 2006 at 10:37 pm)

We’ve already seen the early rumblings of the government’s intended approach to the new Parliamentary session. Senate reform is only the first prong of their likely attack on public and media attention to less-popular issues (Afghanistan, anyone?)

Senate reform is certain to burnish the party’s already strong credentials in Western Canada; and because theirplan doesn’t threaten to disrupt the allocation of seats, it might succeed in drawing in a few more Easterners. But it’s not likely to be a big enough distraction from environmental and foreign policy questions to make a significant impact on its own.

The next likely step is one of the most traditional bastions of Conservative support — crime. The Conservatives had already made law-and-order one of their five priorities, but most of the legislation intended to put their plans into action still has two passes to make through the Commons. At present, there are seven bills on tap:

C-9: Conditions on Conditional Sentences
Right now, when a crime has no minimum mandatory sentence and the court passes a sentence of less than two years, the court can order the sentence to be served outside of prison, subject to any restrictions and probation it deems necessary. This bill will eliminate that option for crimes with maximum sentences of ten years or more. While that category includes conspiracy to commit murder and several terrorism-related charges (which are quite rare), it also includes failure to guard ice-fishing holes and anal sex (which are rarely tried). It is hard to believe that the change will have much impact on crime, but it will likely result in a few hundred more imprisonments per annum, mostly for unremarkable offences.
C-10: Making Gun Crimes Illegaller
The Tories bill this number as an attack on gun crime by imposing mandatory minimum sentences. In truth, every crime affected by the bill already has mandatory minimum sentences. What the bill really does is create higher minimum sentences for repeat offenders, mostly in the case of a range of crimes related to the possession of guns, although it notably affects the use of a firearm in attempted murder or other indictable offences. It also creates two new indictable offences: breaking and entering and robbery for the purpose of obtaining a firearm. Did someone really suggest that Canadian gangs or disturbed murderers weigh potential criminal liability before going on shooting sprees in urban environments?
C-19: Street Racing Be Gone!
In the wake of increased anecdotal coverage, street racing briefly appeared on the news radar of suburbanites nationwide. The government’s response, strategically modelled on the Harris squeegee laws, creates a new crime for street racing and bans convicted street-racers from the roads after their sentences. The Fast and the Furious 3 didn’t draw enough box office to justify higher mandatory minimum sentences for drift racers.
C-21: De Registry
A project which plays well to the rural base but poorly to cities, this bill plays the unconcerned yin to C-19’s hyperactive yang by removing registration requirements for firearms which are neither prohibited nor restricted. Mostly, it means that long-barreled shotguns will no longer require registration certificates. Considering that the only way the previous government was able to enforce the requirement was by eating the registration fees, this is an eminently practical bill. Most of the crimes pointed to by supporters of the registry had mostly to do with non-registration and little or nothing to do with dangerous crime.
C-22: Thinking of the Children
Those young folks need their protection, and that’s what C-22 is intended to provide. The bill applies the most serious category of sexual crimes perpetrated on children to those committed against children up to the age of 16, rather than 14. Along with that,it alters the range of permissible age difference between young sexual partners.
C-23: Administrative Action!
If you like smorgassboard, youll adore bill C-23, a hodgepodge of modifications tossed together. Where else can you see highly technical modifications to evidentiary rules? Amid parts not fit for popular consumption, though, are a few more significant points: extending illegal gambling to cover online gambling, changing possession of car-jacking equipment from an indictable to a summary conviction offence, authorizing orders prohibiting offenders from communicating with victims, and changing the maximum fine for summary conviction offences to $10,000 from $2,000.
S-3: Uniformity
The existing national registry for those convicted of sexual offences does not extend to members of the armed forces convicted of like offences under military law. When this passes, it will.

So what’s it all mean? The Tories have already indicated that, despite recent events in Quebec, they intend to proceed with the elimination of the gun registry. Premier Charest of Quebec plans to fight the move. Right or wrong, the combination will make the change more unpopular in Quebec and Ontario at the least, and infeasible if Quebec links the registry to its support for Harper’s planned Senate reforms.

The conditional sentence, gun crime tweaks, anti-racing provisions, age of protection changes, and gag on offenders will all play with the likely target group: suburbanites. The government came within a few thousand votes in a smattering of seats scattered around Toronto — in addition to securing rural support, targeting announcements in those locations could firm up a bit of support for them.

But will it counteract the effect of the Montreal shooting? That seems unlikely in an area which chose Liberals in 2004 as the best party to fight crime. Ultimately, the Conservatives don’t need to burnish their image on law-and-order issues. Outside of Toronto, they’re the party voters concerned with the issue are likeliest to choose. Within Toronto, their inability to woo voters with the issue must flow from a different perspective on crime. Either way, there’s not much political mileage to be had from what is a significant share of the legislative agenda ahead.

Watch Out, Falling Pie!0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Vague Check, Golden Tacks (Wednesday September 13, 2006 at 5:49 pm)

It’s been a rough ride for Canadian education in the last little while.

A survey of Canadian researchers by the Council of Canadian Academies just found that 2 in 5 believe that Canada is falling behind the rest of the world in research. And anecdotal evidence supported by a minority opinion is about as close as you come to the truth these days. But the proof’s in the pudding — if Canadian science wasn’t fallling behind, more of those surveyed might be smart enough to see what was going on. In fact, the more vigorously Canadian scientists protest the suggestion, the more likely it is to be true, so watch for denials over the next few days.

And just how did Canada get into this mess? Probably because the country is falling behind in education. Despite the fact that 53% of Canadians between the ages of 25 and 34 have either a post-secondary degree or diploma (well above the OECD average of 31%), that percentage has grown by only 1% since 1995! Clearly, the country is in dire straits.

Which might explain why Canada is so keen on attracting university-educated immigrants. There’s clearly a dearth of qualified individuals in the upcoming generation. And of course, these facts point to only one conclusion: the Brain Drain is back!

It’s not an overreaction. Consider: Canada’s “laser physicists” are so useless for laser physics research that they’re being sent into space to do mechanical work. Which, it curiously turns out, they’re not very good at either:

Mission Control later reported that another bolt, similar to the one that went missing during Tuesday’s spacewalk, was lost Wednesday.

MacLean told Mission Control that he was removing a cover on the rotary joint when one of the four bolts he needed disappeared.

“I did not see it go,” MacLean said. “I’m looking to see if anything is floating.”

MacLean ran into another small problem a short time later when an extension on his pistol-grip power tool broke while he was trying to remove a restraint on the rotary joint.

“Son of a gun,” he muttered, then gathered the pieces in a trash bag so they wouldn’t float away and went to a toolbox to retrieve another.

But perhaps the fact that a nation of highly educated workers lags monkeys in elementary tool use is the only unsurprising point to be found in this recent news.

Playing at Politics0

Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning (Sunday September 10, 2006 at 3:44 pm)

Linda Diebel at the Toronto Star has offered the closest thing to an explanation of why Liberal Leadership hopeful Ken Dryden’s campaign just isn’t going anywhere.

Of course, the lack of explanation so far has had more to do with where the campaign’s gone than anything else, but Diebel’s explanation doesn’t quite cut it, either:

It’s more likely Dryden didn’t have the necessary network in place to run, and that speaks to his nature as (described by others) loner and perfectionist. Nobody wants to criticize him on the record. But a source close to his seven-year tenure as president of Maple Leafs argues he was indecisive to the point of not being a good leader.
. . .
“He worries things to death. He cares so much about people’s feelings. He tries to predict the outcome and he almost makes himself ineffective. He wants so much to make the right decision he’s not the guy to make any decision. He has an inability to make tough decisions.”

Sounds plausible until you realize that this could just as easily have described the last man to hold the Liberal leadership. Those who protest the accusation, waving the man’s effective term as Finance Minister as his standard tend to forget that he spent several years in that position dithering over the launching of his well-prepared coup, throttling his own party in the process. Besides which, however pretty they may be, Ministers don’t do the all the work themselves; and trying to tease out their qualities from the legislation prepared by hundreds of civil servants is a tricky game at best.

So if indecisiveness and deathly fear of offending aren’t obstacles to effective political organisation, what are? Diebel’s piece just might throw some light on the real problem. It’s true that he didn’t have a network in place; and just as interesting is a Dryden quote about the last election:

“I was expecting to win. I absolutely was not prepared to lose.” It was too soon on election night when friends urged him to consider a run for leader. “I was way down.”

But, of course, he did win — it was the party that lost. And why shouldn’t he have won? The Liberal Party hasn’t taken less than 20,000 votes in his riding (York Centre) since 1958, much less lost since the same year. Since 1993, the Liberals have taken at least 60% of total votes cast in the riding, and Ken Dryden had a popular name when he arrived.

Which is the real problem. He expected to win. It should have been easy — as easy as being parachuted into a riding you could win without really campaigning. Dryden didn’t have to fight, and if he was naive enough to expect a Liberal victory out of the last election at any time in the final month of campaigning, he was certainly naive enough not to give much thought to quickly moving into the leadership role. And when you get dropped into a plum post and a safe seat, you don’t really have to learn how to do much. You’re kind of along for the ride. Had Dryden been forced to fight a campaign in a close riding, he might have both an idea of what it takes to promote himself politically and a stable of workers experienced at doing just that.

But hold on. Ignatieff was given the same kind of perk — a safe seat — and he seems to be hanging in with more experienced political operators.

There’s a few differences. Whatever Ignatieff might have said about his intention to run for the leadership, his campaign director, Ian Davey, admitted to McLeans that he recruited Ignatieff for just that reason — to succeed Martin as leader. What that means is that Ignatieff was planning on this (as were people around him) even before he got to the show. Dryden spent that time working on the Liberal child care proposal.

But Ignatieff is also suffering from being handed an easy riding. His continuing inability to connect properly with Canadians and avoid sounding like an arrogant snob just might have something to do with the fact that he hasn’t had to really do either to get to where he is in politics now; and both are important skills. Had he been forced to fight a close race, he might have learned how to speak like a normal human being and how important compassion is for a politician.

Which is just one more reason why plunking promising prospects into safe seats is such a bad idea. Not only do you gain nothing from their purported strength; they learn nothing from their so-called campaigns.

Wagging Fingers0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Doubletake/Doubletalk (Saturday September 9, 2006 at 12:39 am)

This may prove to be the dumbest survey since King John asked a shepherd for an Archbishop’s opinions.

As of 1 am, EST, over three thousand people (constituting 39% of the total voting group) have bothered to click on a website button to indicate that they disapprove of the Canadian Prime Minister’s intention to “address the country”.

Is this some ill-conceived and mindless effort to make the Prime Minister look bad merely by disagreeing with whatever he says (we can’t let him win this poll, folks!), or is there some well-concealed reason why this proposal (ie.-saying something to the public) would be a bad thing? Are the self-selected opinionators really disapproving of his plan to speak? Is he going to use subliminal advertising to bend voters to his will? Is there just too much communication in this world of cellphones and crackberries? Is there a three-thousand member cult out there that believes that if Stephen Harper ever really breaks out of his cone of silence the world will come to an end?

Was the Globe and Mail’s editorial staff really so dull that they couldn’t come up with a significant, topical poll subject, or were their polls for the next month written up by summer interns in the waning seconds of their underpaid tenures?

Be sure to turn to the Globe for public opinion on all the important questions:

  • Should public officials post their photographs on their websites?
  • Do you agree that poll results should be revealed?
  • Are newspaper polls relevant in today’s world?

Forget that last one. There’s a difference between questions they don’t need answered and questions they don’t want answered.

39:1 Take 2 In P-10: Senate Reform0

Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning, Golden Tacks (Friday September 8, 2006 at 9:24 pm)

And so it begins.

Senate reform could be a near-perfect issue for the government. So in addition to the popular and half-baked government proposal to shorten Senate terms, the government is pledging to introduce legislation to allow for the election of Senators.

What’s so great about that?

Constitutionally speaking, truncating Senatorial terms might require a formal, multi-provincial amendment, though that remains to be proven. Electing them almost certainly will, even if the government proceeds by setting up elections to provide the candidates to be appointed. So long as elections for Senate posts have no official federal sanction, it’s likely that the Governor-General can appoint them under the legal fiction of choosing to do so. If that’s the case, then the process is still technically the same.

Legislation requiring that Senators be drawn from a pool of elected candidates would likely be seen as binding the Governor-General’s choice. Which means that it would qualify as a change to the “method of selecting Senators” and fall under section 42(1)(b) of the Constitution Act, 1982, requiring an amendment approved by at least 7 provinces having at least 50% of the population.

So what would the government gain from introducing such legislation? The benefit stems from Canadians’ expectations. The Mulroney government’s obsession with constitutional wrangling was concerned with repositioning Quebec within the federation. That led to a complex series of negotiations which drew in a large number of associated issues. Provinces saw an opportunity to advance other claims as their price for what they saw as concessions to Quebec. The result was a series of tense and opaque negotiations, ranging over a wide variety of issues and many months, and given focus only by fears of separatism. When they think of changing the constitution, this is the process Canadians usually think of.

But that complex intergovernmental negotiation isn’t a prerequisite of the amendment process — it was complex mostly because of the complexity of the issues. An amendment only requires the following:

  • Parliament passes a bill containing the relevant amendments
  • Seven provincial legislatures which provinces comprise at least 50% of the population pass bills containing the same amendments

There’s no reason why one has to happen before the other, nor is there any rule about coordinating things in advance. There’s also no rule requiring hushed backroom meetings, single-file press statements, or lengthy debate.

Which means that the Prime Minister can introduce a bill on a narrow issue — electing Senators — without dragging in questions of regional representation. Given the popularity of that narrow change, it would be hard to explain (and justify) provincial opposition. Even if provinces want redistribution of Senate seats, why should the price of such changes be an unnecessary delay of democratic advances? Given that no province really opposes such a change, it’s hard to see what leverage a province stands to gain by insisting on a linkage between an elected Senate and other issues (as things stand).

So the plan ideally unfolds thus:

  • Introduce legislation to hold provincial elections upon Senate vacancies
  • Challenge provinces to pass similar legislation
  • Impress Canadians with a glimpse of how easy it could be to make popular changes to the Constitution
  • Make Canadians wonder why other governments couldn’t follow this route instead of convening investigative commissions and undertaking lengthy discussions
  • Government looks effective and competent
  • Opposition looks like anti-democratic stonewallers

A nice piece of work, if you can pull it off. And as an extra-special benefit, there’s the potential for a real showdown with the Liberal-dominated upper house. With 65 sitting Liberal Senators, even filling the eight current vacancies and replicating Mulroney’s feat of appointing a further eight wouldn’t suffice to ensure passage of government bills. If an appointed Liberal majority in the Senate decides to block a measure that appears both unusually direct and highly popular, it has the potential to be a major beating-stick for the government to wield come election time.

But there is a wild card in the mix, and that’s a little something known provisionally as the Murray-Austin Amendment. In addition to the government’s bill to fix Senators’ terms at eight years (let’s call that S-4), the two eponymous sponsors of this Amendment have proposed three changes:

  • Establishing a new “region” consisting solely of British Columbia and represented by 12 Senators
  • Redistributing the existing 24 regional Senators for Western Canada between Alberta (10) Saskatchewan (7) and Manitoba (7)
  • Increasing the number of “contingency Senators” who can be appointed to between five and ten from between four and eight

The amendment is a wildcard for a few reasons. While it might be popular, it will be bound to raise the hackles of Ontario and Quebec, who are unlikely to want their role in the Senate diluted; and, like it or not, if the Prime Minister wants his own amendments passed, he’ll need either Quebec or Ontario to meet the 50% population target (hence the first glimmers of talks on the subject three weeks ago). Quebec’s price could be the defeat of this amendment (or at least its delay pending broader discussion of redistribution); and if the amendment has, as it has been suggested, the support of the majority of Liberal Senators, the Liberals could block the Prime Minister’s move by undertaking a politically popular move of their own. If that happens, Harper will gain little or nothing for his effort. Hardly surprising, then, that the amendment is co-sponsored by a rump Ontario Progressive Conservative and a British Columbia Liberal.

On the other hand, if the measure passes, the Liberals will have less room to manoeuver in the Senate. At present, the Liberals hold 65 of a total possible 113 Senate seats. If Murray and Austin have their way, the total number of possible seats will grow to 127, potentially putting the Liberals in the position of holding a slender, two-vote majority. Considering that it can often be difficult to marshall older Senators, the amendment could jeopardize the Liberal party’s leverage in the upper chamber. Is a draw with the Conservatives over the issue of Senate reform really worth weakening the party’s most significant advantage in Parliament?

So very much to consider. No wonder it’s a house of second thought.

First Lord of the Rings0

Posted by JJ in Once-Sceptered Isle (Thursday September 7, 2006 at 6:15 pm)

In Tolkien’s contribution to English mythology, the demon Sauron invests a magical ring with his own power. So long as he wields it, his power is strengthened; but when separated from it, both risk destruction.

In Tony Blair’s contribution to British politics, the Prime Minister invests his office with his own charisma. So long as he stays in it, the power of his office is strengthened, but if he might be separated from it, both risk destruction.

Unlike some, England’s Parliamentary democracy was long characterized by relatively weak Prime Ministers. Powerfully embedded local party committees diminished the Prime Minister’s ability to intimidate MPs through control of party nominations while the MPs sheer numbers made it difficult to bring a majority onside through Cabinet appointments (explaining the endurance of long-obsolete sinecures).

Tony Blair changed that. Invigorated by the combination of a compelling majority, a party eager for power after a lengthy drought, and bucketloads of personal appeal, he began a restructuring of the government which concentrated power in the Prime Minister’s office. From subtle, well-known changes to internal structure to the mindblowing, scarcely discussed power to amend legislation, the Prime Minister’s office has come, more and more, to resemble that of a President, displacing Parliament as the political centre of the country.

This process has not gone uncriticised. While the recent cooperation between Blair and US President George Bush has increased public attention to the increasing similarities between their executive styles, the situation was discussed before that became an issue. And some, Cassandra-like, predicted exactly this turn of events:

Like Thatcher, Blair will follow Thatcher`s demise at the hands of his own party unless there are changes in both the organization and attitude of his office. . .

But as the Liberals in Canada found to their loss, that kind of centralised power is a poor breeding ground for future leaders. Without the opportunity to meaningfully participate in government, would-be successors rarely have the opportunity to hone their political skills on the right stage. If this latest putsch is, as has been suggested, a manoeuvre by an anxious contender, the party may find him, as he may find the prize itself worth less than it seemed.

Much of the political capital needed to so dominate the political scene came from Blair’s popularity. With that in decline and on its way to irrelevance — without its source of power — the Prime Minister’s Office will be unable to maintain the same kind of grip. Blair’s successor, whomever that may prove to be, will have to make do once more with merely being First Lord of the Treasury, without the power to rule them all.

39:1 Take 2 In P-110

Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning (Wednesday September 6, 2006 at 11:51 pm)

There comes a time when even the most obstinate government has no choice but to turn to Parliament. So will it be in eleven days for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The opening of the first session of the 39th Parliament of Canada was marked by masterful political manoeuvering for those with the eye for it. The government successfully showed its opponents’ disunity, limiting their future ability to position themselves against government policy, passed a budget without the advantage of their opposition abstaining, and defied opposition threats to bring the House toppling down around them. Not bad for under three months.

And now, it’s time for the second act. With the Liberals still headless, the Bloc Quebecois still too low in Quebec polls to rush into elections, and the NDP doing their part to prove that fact and reason are no obstacles to legitimate party status, the Conservatives have a relatively clean canvas and plenty of space to paint on.

Oh, but all’s not pure and clean, no. Harper’s position on the Lebanese war has left his government down from its majority-sniffing heights in the polls. Canadian forces remain engaged in a military offensive which Canadians, unaccustomed to seeing their army in combat, find hard to distinguish from the conflict in Iraq. The consequence? Canadians may find it hard to distinguish their government’s activities from those of the United States; and there’s nothing they hate more than that.

So what will Harper do? What will Parliament’s resumption bring us (apart from increased media coverage of politics, of course)?

Consider that of forty-six government bills introduced in Parliament only nine have been passed, and you might get an idea or two. Many of the government’s policy announcements are still cluttering up desks in the Parliamentary lobbies. The new session will be a perfect opportunity to draw attention away from foreign policy and focus on the government’s message. The Cold Hard Wonk will count you down to Parliament by taking a look at the legislative agenda and just what the government might be up to.

In His Own Words0

Posted by JJ in Hats Off, Gentlemen, Golden Tacks, Gaia (Wednesday September 6, 2006 at 5:20 pm)

So let’s get this straight: Liberal Leadership Candidate Stephan Dion’s environmental platform was partly copied from the proposals of a globally acclaimed environmentalist and Companion of the Order of Canada.

Is anyone wondering why this is a problem? Is it because of lack of attribution? Has one of his rivals attributed his carbon tax proposal? It’s not like others haven’t previously offered up the same idea.

Perhaps it’s copyright that everyone’s worried about; and they’ve got a point there. After all, if M. Dion is willing to lift the text of significant study by this group of experts, might he not do the same thing to other experts? The Suzuki Foundation does copyright their reports.

So that must be it. By copying out portions of David Suzuki’s proposal and not attributing it properly, Dion’s campaign used copyrighted material, which is a serious problem if the copyright holder doesn’t give permission for the use. Of course, that’s not the case here:

Pierre Sadik, senior policy adviser for the David Suzuki Foundation, acknowledged there were several similarities between the Dion Web site and the foundation’s paper but said that’s a “non-issue” for him.

“We’re delighted any time a politician picks up our proposed solutions to Canada’s environmental problems.”

Which is just good sense.

So, no foul? Not legally, no. But there are some who might be troubled. The proliferation and increased sophistication of lobby groups has raised suspicion among some that these groups positions are designed, from the start, for negotiating purposes. If so, then the proposals they advance shouldn’t be adopted wholesale. Will those individuals be angry with a politician who unhesitatingly accepts the claims of activists?

It’s a difficult line to draw; but the Suzuki Foundation, unlike groups like Greenpeace, isn’t known for taking absolute or potentially violent stands on environmental issues. It has consistently emphasised a science-based, rational approach to the assessment and development of policy and peaceful implementation of new policy.. It is precisely the kind of organisation with the kind of expertise that should be encouraged.

And if this plagiarism encourages the Foundation as it claims, kudos to M. Dion’s team. If only they had the guts to admit their mistake. How far would guts like that take them?