Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Running in Place0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning, Gaia (Tuesday October 31, 2006 at 11:10 pm)

The Liberal Party of Canada, still convinced that their credibility on Kyoto is crucial to defeating the perennial also-ran New Democrats in the next election, are on the attack.

His usual two-step of borrowing others’ ideas and buffing credentials with left-wing voters has brought NDP Leader Jack Layton to his latest pas: introducing a private member’s bill (borrowed from recent Liberal successes) to establish periodic review and standards for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

While Mr. Layton’s efforts are notable for their attempt to capitalize on recent coverage of other private member’s bills, it seems unlikely to be more than a holding action. As the Green Party’s credibility builds, the NDP will find it harder to keep their environmentally-minded constituency. Since recent events have given a lustre of positive action to the normally humdrum private member’s bill, it’s a good move for Layton.

But standing pat on the environment isn’t a strategic issue for the Liberal Party. There’s little question that the Liberals have more credibility than the Tories on environmental issues; but as it’s unlikely that those who choose based on environmental issues vote for Conservatives, there’s little to gain from the Liberals’ primary opponents by building credibility.

The only strategic hope for burnishing the party’s Kyoto credentials is therefore to swipe potential NDP votes; and that’s not a great plan. Layton has attacked the Liberals before, and Kyoto is an issue on which the Liberals have no real credibility and several weak points. Beyond the old standby of “Why didn’t you do anything while you were in office?”, Layton can now rely on the auditor-general’s report and the fact that it was under the Liberals that Canada failed to meet specific Kyoto requirements which could trigger future problems.

When your opponent has that kind of armament to wield, it’s wise not to get into that fight. It’s all well and good to trot out a government minister to buttress a point, but the Liberals no longer have Ministers at their disposal. Fighting over environmental voters with the NDP isn’t going to sway them — especially since they’re likely to be well-educated enough on the issue to be impervious to Liberal efforts to muddy the waters (like this recent attack). Besides which, it’s not clear that the small group of voters who put the environment first but know very little about environmental policies are enough to make a significant impact at the polls.

Fighting over the NDP’s polling scraps isn’t the way for the Liberals to retake the House. If it worked, it might shift a dozen or so seats, but it could let Tories come up the middle in as many seats as Liberals could win. If the Liberals really want to get into fighting trim on environmental issues, they need to stay well away from provoking the one party with the credibility and will to protect their constituency. They’re not the ones who should be struggling to stand still.

Consider Reconsidering0

Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning, Golden Tacks (Monday October 30, 2006 at 11:15 pm)

For Liberals who bravely cheered Paul Martin’s hail Mary during the 2006 election, Michael Ignatieff’s pledge to open constitutional negotiations with no more directed aim than recording Quebec’s nationhood in the unbending stone of the written Constitution is divine nectar. But, setting criticism of the plan’s inherent wisdom aside, consider what this latest news means for its most urgent function: winning votes.

Since the Ignatieff-heavy Quebec wing of the party demanded the change (sparking suspicion that the resolution was pushed through largely to prove the extent of Ignatieff’s command of Quebec), it must be considered at the same nationwide convention at which Liberals will choose their new standard-bearer. Suddenly, the candidates are rushing to avoid the spectre of such consideration:

There appear to be several options available to the party. It is possible to amend a resolution in the smaller workshops, or to not designate it as a “priority” to be moved forth for debate on the full floor. A resolution may also be amended on the convention floor, providing there is enough support for such a change, a senior Liberal told the Star.

Why, do you ask? It’s not just the haunting problem of a party emerging from a leadership convention deeply wounded by a divisive policy debate. Given how controversial the issue really is, it shines brightly enough to compete with the main event. When you’re trying to maximize publicity of the new leader, you really don’t want to have constitutional scholars clogging up the media with analysis of plenary discussions.

And yes, it is controversial. Ignatieff defends his plan:

“Other candidates have said … recognizing Quebec as a nation in the Constitution is too difficult,” Ignatieff said in that [the Quebec City] debate. “Yes, it’s difficult, but we must do it. Otherwise, what alternative are we offering against (Prime Minister) Harper’s status quo and the Bloc’s politics of fantasy?

And yet, his staff suggest shelving it:

“All of the candidates agree that now is not the time for constitutional discussions,” said Ignatieff’s national director of policy and Internet strategy, Brad Davis.

Controversial, it seems, even within his campaign, since this couldn’t possibly be another example of the equivocation Iggy never does. But a few questions are worth asking:

Why introduce a policy in such a way as to potentially upstage yourself?

Why recommend constitutional amendment if you agree that it’s the wrong time for it?

Why propose policy likely to alienate a large portion of your party while trying to unite it after a bitter feud?

Who could possibly recommend a candidate with the political clumsiness to do the above?

Disingenuity on Focus0

Posted by JJ in Vague Check, All Politics, Crossroads of Culture (Sunday October 29, 2006 at 10:48 am)

It was inevitable that protests against the Canadian mission to Afghanistan would follow a rise in casualties and the first well-publicised Canadian military action in decades. Was it inevitable that casualties would lead to intentional obfuscation?

It began with former Prime Minister Paul Martin’s critique of the mission:

“You can’t win the military war if you can’t win the hearts and minds of the people,” Martin said.

He said that he approved what military planners refer to as the “3-D” approach to the mission: diplomacy, defence and development.

“We are doing the defence,” Martin said. “In fact, we are doing the defence quite aggressively — and you can’t do it passively.

“But are we doing the amount of reconstruction, the amount of aid that I believe was part of the original mission? The answer unequivocally is that we’re not. And I believe that we should.”

Timed brilliantly to follow the loss of four Canadian soldiers to a suicide bomber while handing out aid on a tour of the southern region. Let alone that these deaths were suffered while doing what Martin claimed wasn’t being done. The attack, plainly designed to make the population fearful of Canadian aid-givers would surely be unnecessary if Canadians weren’t providing aid, would it?

But that assertion of a misguided mission is the position opponents are flocking to. In this corner, we have Jack Layton, NDP Leader, repeating the mantra of “unbalance”:

[The mission is] not well constructed, it’s unbalanced, we’re putting 10 times as much into the military side as we are into aid, and we now have famine and real problems spreading in Afghanistan,

In truth, there was a famine going on in Afghanistan before the invasion. Besides which, when the military is the body delivering aid, isn’t it disingenuous to suggest that you can separate its budget from the aid budget for comparison? How much of that “military side” is money spent on aid?

If you’re appealling to quick emotional reaction (whether anti-war or anti-Bush), that’s the kind of question you don’t want people to ask. Which is why the crucial element is suggesting that the mission’s mandate is either to carry out purely American ends or uncertain:

Brian Mason, who leads Alberta’s NDP, said military families in the province often look for “some really good reason why they’re involved in what they’re doing.

“But, I think that increasingly, some of them are starting to question why their loved ones are over there.”

This goes so far, in some cases, as to be an out-and-out lie:

Contrary to endless misleading stories in the mainstream media, the Canadian mission in Afghanistan is NOT a NATO mission, nor has it been specifically authorized by the UN. It is, in fact part of the American Operation Enduring Freedom begun in 2001. (My source? The Canadian Department of National Defense:…_e.asp?id=1703 )

A quick trip to the cited source reveals the following:

More than 2000 members of the Canadian Forces (CF) are in Afghanistan today at the request of the Afghan Government, most of them as part of the UN-Sanctioned NATO-led International Stabilization Assistance Force (ISAF) mission

So why fight so hard to obfuscate the mission? After all, anyone interested in finding out more about the mission’s professed aims and objectives could do so by a simple check on NATO information? Is this a Michael-Moore style “fight disinformation with disinformation” campaign? Do Canadians really not bother to check on the most elementary of claims by their would-be leaders?

Don’t answer that last one, you might cry.

That this approach would profess to spring from genuine concern is especially baffling when it could so easily shift to something real from straw men and misdirection. As a former US soldier put it at a protest in Toronto:

We refuse to participate in an illegal and immoral war under the guise of freedom,

A position which requires more. Why is it illegal to be in Afghanistan? Why is it immoral to do what NATO is doing there? To adopt such a position would require informing Canadians and engaging them in real debate. But that, sadly, doesn’t seem to be on some to-do lists.

Slippage Theory0

Posted by JJ in Vague Check, Strategic Planning, Golden Tacks (Friday October 27, 2006 at 10:31 pm)

One of the biggest question marks in any multiple-round vote has to do with loyalty. Not the kind of loyalty that keeps people behind a candidate, either — that’s relatively rare. It’s the kind of loyalty that keeps people behind a former candidate when he or she decides to call it quits. Then, faced with the fact that their chosen one is no longer an option, they must decide whether to follow him no matter whose side he moves to or find their own way.

It’s an especially difficult question in leadership contests. Failed candidates try to maximize their strength by moving to potential winners. By carrying their supporters with them, they bolster their choice’s chances and their own. But if supporters aren’t loyal, the move means little in the end.

Which is why Bob Richardson is right and wrong about the prospects of coalitions among the lower-ranked campaigns in the Liberal leadership race. He’s right to point out that two early dropouts weren’t able to carry their supporters with them. He’s wrong when he suggests that this means that movement among camps at this point will be equally ineffective.

The difference is simple. Bevilacqua and Fry dropped out of the race prior to the delegate selection, meaning that their supporters had not yet been transmuted into that gold of conventions: delegates. So when they moved to other campaigns, their scant support was a meagre offering at best. What they had were a few organizers and some hundreds of members, worthless without the organizers to control them.

We’re no longer talking about the control of thousands of members across hundreds of ridings. We’re talking about the control of hundreds of delegates. Delegates aren’t merely members — they’re members who’ve committed to attending the convention to support a particular candidate. That already makes them different from a member at large; and believing that they’re as open-minded and prone to wander as regular members is a mistake.

Just as important, the number of organizers needed to control those delegates is significantly smaller than those needed to mobilize and control the thousands of members used to elect them. As a result, bleed of supporters isn’t as significant. And just as there is a difference between members-at-large and delegates, there’s a difference between organizers-at-large and convention organizers. The latter are chosen to work in the rarified air of a noisy convention floor.

Which means that the supporters who matter at this point won’t be as footloose as those who went before; and not just because they’re with campaigns that have real chances of making the grade. The idea that mergers will only shake delegates loose to be drawn, mothlike to the Ignatieff lamp was implausible before the candidate’s spate of overweening gaffes. At this point it’s wishful thinking. Some will go that way, no question. But that kind of shedding won’t be what puts any candidate over the edge in this contest.

Home to Roost0

Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning, Gaia, Brass Tacks (Thursday October 26, 2006 at 5:30 pm)

Some weeks ago, the opposition used one of its areas of cohesion in an attempt to embarrass the government. A Liberal backbencher’s private member’s bill which would, if enacted, compel the government to implement the Kyoto protocol, passed first reading in the House, sending it to the committee stage.

Why an attempt to embarrass rather than to embrace Kyoto? Not because the parties in question had ample opportunity to embrace it during their term in office — that’s just cynical. It was an attempt to embarrass because any fool with a basic knowledge of Parliamentary procedure would realise that the government could block the bill by any number of delaying tactics if it posed a real threat to its plans.

So why should parties sophisticated enough to bring about such a subtle plot act surprised when the Tories do just as expected? Do they think that throwing blame over legislative stalling resonates with voters other than their own supporters?

When the Tories block opposition legislation with the expected filibusters, they’re not being negative. When the opposition parties complain, they are. Negativity doesn’t sell, period. It makes Parliament itself look bad, and that takes all parties down.

If it was the opposition’s plan to bring things to the brink and make the government fight, they’re forgetting that the last election wasn’t won by brinksmanship — it was won by positive presentations in the space opened by the brinksmanship. Demonizing isn’t just cheap politics. It’s bad politics, especially when you have an upper hand to play. What about:

We will continue to work our hardest to keep this legislation moving forward. The environment is too important to compromise, and no matter what roadblocks the government tries to put up, we’ll keep pressing them on this bill.

Is that too hard to figure out, or is it just too hard to rise above the fray? Canadians have already heard about the government’s aloofness from the press; and those who care aren’t going to care more because you repeat it, as Jack Layton chose to:

He [Stephen Harper] has an arrogant and controlling attitude to his caucus, to the media, to the Canadian public, and also to the representatives (in opposition) of a majority of the Canadian people.

Yes, the press asks lots of questions; and sure, they’re going to try to get you riled up into saying something of this kind. The mark of a good politician, though, is turning that to advantage, rather than harping on a point fully digested by the public. It’s an arrogant mistake to believe that those who still disagree with you do so solely because they haven’t heard your message yet. It might be that they don’t care about your message; and if so, they don’t want to hear you complain about it.

Which is why repeating positives is better for you than the alternative. The initial decision to work on the private member’s bill was just such a positive, and the government’s stalling drew enough attention to it to repeat it. Under those circumstances, why go the other way?

Getting It0

Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning, Hats Off, Gentlemen (Friday October 20, 2006 at 4:35 am)

The anti-creationist lobby often reacts to their opponents by labelling them as backwards-looking; but in general, the problem is that things are the other way around. While studies of evolution focus on reviewing fossil records and the results of testing, creationists educate, inculcate, and elect in hopes of furthering those same aims in future. Only too late, it seems, do the guardians of the scientific legacy realise that they have been outmanoeuvered, politically speaking.

Which is why 2003 Nobel Laureate Peter C. Agre, MD’s appearance on October 19th on the Colbert Report deserves more praise than can easily be offered. Dr. Agre made two suggestions, each of which illustrate how well he understands both the nature of the challenge confronting the scientific community and the nature of the solution:

People must read more. . .of everything
A narrow background breeds narrow thought. It’s not enough for scientists to focus on their own disciplines, any more than it is for others to ignore the likes of biology and chemistry. Not only does a broader mind stand a better chance of dealing with emerging challenges — it’s also less likely simply to follow others’ lead. That’s good for everyone, and a powerful reminder that professional focus and broad erudition aren’t mutually exclusive. Agre’s selections of Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson are great places to start.
A Nobel Prize is worth two weeks of broadcast time
Agre made the bold offer to hand over his Nobel in exchange for 10 of the Colbert Report’s half-hour timeslots. Few better opportunities exist to reach a broad audience; and understanding that taking science public is the best way to ensure political support is exactly where scientific proponents have been falling behind. Kudos to the good Doctor for catching the political implications — further kudos for making the bid.

Which translates into a simple proposition: Dr. Agre is a scientist with some impressive political sense. For the sake of his cause, let’s hope others follow his lead.

Kelowna Bound?0

Posted by JJ in Brass Tacks (Thursday October 19, 2006 at 3:43 am)

Once again, a Liberal private member’s bill stands to embarrass the federal government. What’s not clear is how it would actually compel the government to implement the Kelowna Accord.

Since the Accord required government expenditure of $624 Million in the first year alone, a private member’s bill which compels it would involve the expenditure of public funds; and as Parliamentary rules have it:

In developing their legislative proposals, Members should bear in mind that bills containing specific provisions or clauses involving the expenditure of public funds will require a Royal Recommendation from the Government before they can be passed by the House.

A Royal Recommendation is an approval only provided by the government:

For the first hundred years following Confederation, any bill or clause appropriating money had to be preceded by a House resolution, whose wording defined precisely the amount and purpose of any appropriations sought. The resolution was moved by a Minister of the Crown and was recommended by the Governor General. . .

. . .the House eliminated the resolution stage in 1968. [59] The Crown’s recommendation would now be conveyed to the House as a printed notice which would appear in the Notice Paper and again in the Journals when the bill was introduced, and be printed in or appended to the text of the bill. . .

. . .In 1994, the Standing Orders were again amended to remove the requirement that a royal recommendation had to be provided to the House before a bill could be introduced. [61] The royal recommendation can now be provided after the bill has been introduced in the House, as long as it is done before the bill is read a third time and passed. . .

These rules apply to private member’s bills:

The rules regarding the royal recommendation also apply to a bill sponsored by a private Member. [70] In the past, when such a bill infringed on the financial initiative of the Crown, the Speaker has not allowed it to go forward. [71] However, since the rule change of 1994, private Members’ bills involving the spending of public money have been allowed to be introduced and to proceed through the legislative process, on the assumption that a royal recommendation would be submitted by a Minister of the Crown before the bill was to be read a third time and passed. [72] If a royal recommendation were not produced by the time the House was ready to decide on the motion for third reading of the bill, the Speaker would have to stop the proceedings and rule the bill out of order. The Speaker has the duty and responsibility to ensure that the Standing Orders on the royal recommendation as well as the constitutional requirements are upheld. There is no provision under the rules of financial procedure which would permit the Speaker to leave it to the House to decide or to allow the House to do so by unanimous consent.

So explain this: how can a private member’s bill compel the government to spend money simply by referencing a separate document? Does that conceivably satisfy rule 79(1) of the standing procedures of the House of Commons:

79. (1) This House shall not adopt or pass any vote, resolution, address or bill for the appropriation of any part of the public revenue, or of any tax or impost, to any purpose that has not been first recommended to the House by a message from the Governor General in the session in which such vote, resolution, address or bill is proposed.

And why, when printing the story, doesn’t the Toronto Star deign to deal with this complication?

Mixed News, At Best0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Golden Tacks (Wednesday October 18, 2006 at 9:10 pm)

The old line is only half true: the only poll that matters is the one on election day. As the Chilly Wonk recently pointed out, the most significant nationwide numbers aren’t necessarily relative standings. Much more significant is the absolute vote count, only partly because voter turnout can have as significant an impact on the outcome of an election; and polls taken months away from an election can’t reveal much about those numbers.

Which is why much of the analysis offered by the Globe and Mail on a poll released today isn’t particularly useful. Consider:

Until now, Conservative support has been holding steady at around 36 per cent, prompting some strategists to argue that the party now has a new and higher electoral base from which to work.

Which the article presents to imiplicitly disprove via the polling numbers. But as the Ice-Cold Wonk showed in that previous article, the change in the Conservative base came in 2004, not 2006, with the real merger of the two parties. Moreover, the Tory increase in 2006 didn’t come from tugging at Liberal voters — it could be completely accounted for by the increase in voter turnout. Base/bonus voter arguments aren’t the issue.

What is? Movement. To work with the polls, which only offer relative performance, we’d need to start with the assumption that total votes remain roughly constant — the polls tell us nothing about that. Just as importantly, movement in regions has to be closely compared with the real opportunities for seat gains to appreciate how that movement translates into electoral victory. The Globe and CTV don’t do that. Fortunately, it’s not that hard to do.

Let’s start in Quebec (since the poll, irritatingly, ignores the Maritimes as a separate category). In 2006, a rise in Tory tides resulted in a gain of 10 seats in the province, eight from the Bloc Quebecois, and two from the Liberals. A Liberal gain of 7% in Quebec, as the poll suggests comes directly from the Tories, would result in a transfer of 105,000 votes from one party to the other. That number could be swallowed entirely by a reversal of the shift in votes in the eight seats taken from the BQ, which would gain the Liberals nothing — they trailed the BQ by thousands of votes in each of those ridings, and the BQ’s numbers seem to also have risen in the polls. The Liberals lost only eight seats in Quebec in the last election. Of the six lost to the BQ, only three were lost by less than 3,000 votes. So if the movement in Quebec suggested by the poll is right, the Liberals could still wind up gaining no seats. At the least, it would suggest that the Bloc stands to regain between six and eight seats from the Tories. The Liberals might retake five seats, but it will take more than the movement this poll suggests to grow past those numbers.

The Ontario numbers have shifted primarily because of movement to the Green Party from both Liberals and Conservatives. But the Tories have lost less from the change than have the Liberals; and if the Liberal bleeding comes from continued losses on their leftist flank, it may forebode a poorer Liberal performance in the urban areas where those voters are concentrated. If so, these slight changes are unlikely to bring any real change in seat totals in the most populous province in the country.

The “West” is so diverse a region that polling covering changes in that area can mean many things. The only party shown to have lost support since the election is the Conservatives — to the tune of seven percent. The Greens have picked up five points of that, most likely in BC. The Liberals picked up four points of that (impossible, true, but as the poll shows a total of 99% at the election at 101% on October 18th, that’s the way it is). The Liberal gains probably include both a mild improvement in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and an upswing in BC.

Given those numbers, it might be reasonable to expect the Liberals to reclaim Winnipeg South and possibly retain Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River (taken in 2006 by a mere 70 votes). In BC, the change will be harder to predict. While Green strength largely saps the Tories’ strength in BC, only in Fleetwood-Port Kells did the Conservatives win by less than 4,000 votes. Liberal strength might lead to a recapture of Victoria from the NDP, but with a 6,800 vote lead to erase, that could prove difficult. The genuinely competitive three-way races in BC don’t allow any obvious conclusions from such vague polling data.

Which suggests Tory losses of up to twelve seats, dragging their tally down to 113, Liberal gains of up to eight seats, bringing them to 110, and Bloc gains of five seats, taking them to 56. The NDP, with no change to speak of, would remain at their present level of 29. Even if the Liberals take back every seat from the Bloc (which would mean overcoming 3,000, 4,000 and 5,000 vote leads), they would only manage to equal the Tory total, in which case the Conservatives could remain in government, still needing only Bloc support to stand pat.

What’s it all mean? If the Tory slide is due to dissatisfaction with government policies, then barring complete disasters, there isn’t much farther to go — there’s already public disclosure of those policies. That means that a Liberal attack strategy for the election can’t bring them much more than a very weak minority position. Both they and the Conservatives must come up with a strong election message to have any chance of making significant gains.

Just as importantly, it signals that Liberal plans cannot rest on Ontario. The lack of change in that province is perhaps the most significant detail for Liberal eyes. Hopes for future majorities need to rest on broadening efforts across the country. A real effort to take more BC races is crucial, as is a plan to recover lost ground in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and the Maritimes.

For the Conservatives, it shows that they can’t rely on controlling the agenda. The need to respond to events around them prevents them from running the kind of careful, controlled campaign that brought such success in the 2006 election. While there’s a chance they can retake the momentum, it will be more difficult than taking it originally was. The good news for them is their continued strength in Ontario; but a real breakout in either the Maritimes or BC is crucial to their future hopes — they’ve nowhere else to look to.

Lest we forget, growth in Green numbers is hardly a bad sign for that party, either. What they’ll do with it is a different question.

It’s not an easy way forward to majority status for any party. That’s perhaps the best news of all — it means, whatever else the parties had in mind, a real fight for Canadians to watch.

Kid Gloves0

Posted by JJ in Vague Check, Chancellor's Footrule, Brass Tacks (Tuesday October 17, 2006 at 11:16 pm)

If current events are, once more, going to produce law, we can at least hope for reasoned decisions. That children younger than twelve might commit such repugnant crimes is hard to accept; but so is the prospect that they might willingly engage in acts with a cold brutality incompatible with juvenile innocence.

Which demands that, notwithstanding the Criminal Code’s prohibition against the conviction of children under twelve, there be some means of applying justice and the law to transgressions of this kind.

The problem is simple:

Some academics say holding young children accountable is a tall order, because they haven’t developed the ability to realize their actions could result in someone’s death or injury.

“As far as we know from child development literature, this whole idea of future consequences is something that … probably is not fully developed until well into late adolescence,” said professor Barry Mallin, who teaches school psychology at the University of Manitoba.

But courts already deal with this kind of problem. Children’s testimony is complicated by the fact that they may have difficulty in appreciating the situation and their role. It was once, therefore, necessary to prove that the child had the capacity to properly understand and answer questions and to distinguish between the truth and lies. Now, in federal courts, the child’s ability to testify is presumed and must be disproven if the child is to be alleged incompetent (see section 16.1 here).

A similar mechanism could be put into place. Stipulate that children under twelve are presumed incapable of comprehending the consequences of their actions; but allow the Crown to try to prove that they were capable (at the time of committing the offence) in the case of indictable offences (the more serious category of crimes), while precluding their conviction for summary conviction offences (the less serious category of crimes).

The burden of proving such capacity before the fact is onerous enough that one can scarcely expect it to be borne in any but the clearest of circumstances (recalling, of course, that criminal cases must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt). The mere fact that shooting a victim killed him would not suffice — it must be shown that the shooter knew and was cognizant of the fact that doing so would kill him. A child who, reared on televised drama, believed that gunshot wounds were barely debilitating could not be convicted of murder; but one who tracked down a victim and set out to torture or kill her could be.

And it is, after all, the willful act that makes a crime — not the maturity of its perpetrator. Crimes are offences against justice and social order. And our natural shrinking at the thought that children may be guilty of the most violent of crimes must not prevent justice from demanding to know whether, in fact, they are.

Sour Grapes in the Okanagan0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk (Monday October 16, 2006 at 11:36 pm)

The Liberal leadership contest has already seen plenty of rule-breaking to avoid the rules. What’s on tap? How about rule-breaking in the name of enforcing the rules?

That’s what an appeal by three of the top four candidates has in mind. The revelation by Bob Rae’s camp that a former worker signed 200 membership forms himself, rather than having them signed by the members in question had Ignatieff’s and now Dion’s and Kennedy’s camps riled up. According to reports, this taints 78 of Rae’s delegates in British Columbia, either because they were elected in part by members whose forms were improperly filled out, or because their own forms were improperly filled out.

As Ignatieff’s Operations Director put it, those delegates:

are the uncurable poisoned fruit of fraudulent activity, which the Rae campaign should not be entitled to benefit from

Harsh words, whose uber-adjectival bent comes from frustration (read: Why won’t anyone take this more seriously! It’s really, very, terribly, badly unfair!) And frustration is justified — the party’s initial ruling was that the tainted delegates would be replaced by other, unelected Rae delegates.


Well, if you recall the reasoning that protected Ignatieff’s camp from investigation in the last round of scandal, there was a cutoff date for challenging the authenticity of members. If the problem is that those whose membership forms had forged signatures shouldn’t have voted, it’s too late, just as it was two weeks ago.

If the problem, on the other hand, is with the forms declaring those 78 persons’ standing as delegates, then a different rule, no 10.5, applies:

Effect of misrepresentation in Notice of Intention to Stand. If, at any time, including a time subsequent to the Meeting, an error is determined to have taken place as a result of a misrepresentation contained on a Notice of Intention to Stand, the National Returning Officer may:
(a) if satisfied that the misrepresentation was deliberate, disqualify the delegate candidate involved and declare elected the person who would become entitled to attend as a delegate in the place of the disqualified delegate candidate had the disqualified candidate failed to register before the close of registration at the Convention;

Which boils down to: disqualify the delegate in question and substitute the next person on the list. Since the voting method for delegates guarantees that the next choice is the next-highest-ranked person supporting the same leadership candidate, the solution applied by the party follows the rules of the contest quite strictly. Disqualified delegates should be replaced by delegates representing the same candidate, if any qualify (all potential delegates might be disqualified).

Which means that the decision on the appeal will be an interesting one. Will the party stick by the rules, as it has before, at the possible expense of legitimacy, or will it break the rules in order to enforce the unwritten rule: “don’t misrepresent”? Will the rules that were the Ignatieff campaign’s defense two weeks ago now protect his opponent from his attacks?

What’s sauce for the goose is, after all, sauce for the gander. And sour grapes, as you know, make an excellent sauce.

Everything New is Old Again0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Doubletake/Doubletalk, Vague Check, Strategic Planning (Saturday October 7, 2006 at 10:14 pm)

For those still so dazzled by technology that they haven’t lost faith in the “new economy”, John Harris of the Washington Post has a very flashy trinket on offer. In a week that’s already seen one forgetful recreation of past failures, Harris is as confident as a huckster economist in 1999 that new technology means new rules and a new game.

A number of recent political scandals, Harris says, have originated in the world of “new media” before moving into newspapers and television — the more “traditional” outlets. He points to three recent stories: George Allen’s “macaca” remark, captured by a cameraman paid by his opponent, Jim Webb; Mark Foley’s flirtation with Congressional pages; and Bill Clinton’s interview cum debate.

Supposedly, these stories include an “arresting personal angle”. And since Bill Clinton’s interview was broadcast on Fox News, the “new media” of Harris’s vision lumps web reporting together with television. All that makes it “new”, it would seem, is that it was recently established; and that’s enough, according to Harris, to make it something novel:

Cumulatively, the stories highlight a new brand of politics in which nearly any revelation in the news becomes a weapon or shield in the daily partisan wars, and the aim of candidates and their operatives is not so much to win an argument as to brand opponents as fundamentally unfit.

Which is enough to give any reader with a memory longer than a goldfish pause. When was it, exactly, that winning arguments was the primary aim of political campaigning? Lincoln’s famous debates with Douglas lost him the Senatorial election but won him the Presidential election two years later. Which election was about winning the argument and which about losing?

But more importanty, what’s so new about attacking the competence of one’s opponents? Has Harris never heard of the daisy commercial from Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 Presidential campaign suggesting Goldwater wasn’t the man to manage nuclear tensions? What about the 1993 Tory commercial hinting that Jean Chretien’s facial paralysis made him a poor choice to represent Canada abroad? What about the Ontario slogan in 1999: “Dalton McGuinty: He’s Just Not Up to the Job”? Perhaps he paid no attention to the allegations of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas, suggesting that his personal behaviour made him a bad choice to make legal judgements? He might be forgiven for being unaware of the fact that homosexuality was added to the charges against Edward II of England, or that accusations of personal immorality were common weapons in classical political life.

But no, focusing on personal attacks at the expense of policy arguments really is a new wave in politics. How easily the eye can be blinded by a bit of fiber optics and more of the same old, same old.

Andre of Arabia0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, All Politics, Crossroads of Culture (Friday October 6, 2006 at 8:37 am)

The Maginot line of fortifications has achieved such cultural cachet that ever more perplexing references to it come with little explanation. One might therefore imagine that its lessons for tacticians and strategists are scarcely worth mentioning.

What, then, to make of Saudi Arabia’s plan to defend itself from potential spillover of the Iraqi conflict with a fence along the nations’ mutual border?

Has Saudi Intelligence forgotten that they also border Jordan? Will Syria and Jordan implement similar controls, or will it be their fate to play the low countries to the Saudi’s France? Will those who fail to learn from history be doomed to repeat it?

Anatomy of A Tabloid0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Vague Check (Thursday October 5, 2006 at 6:40 pm)

Let’s say you’re a journalist. You hear a rumour that the current Prime Minister rarely meets with the figurehead Governor-General. Partisan employees of two past PMs, both from the party opposed to the current Prime Minister, emphasise that their PMs met with the former Governor-General more often.

A historian, constitutional expert, and former MP from the same party as the two employees tells you that there’s nothing unusual or improper about these officials having more or fewer meetings. You confirm that the Prime Minister and Governor-General have formally met only once, but have met on other occasions, and spoken regularly. Neither the Prime Minister’s nor the Governor-General’s offices are willing to comment.

The question: Do you have a story?

You bet your online journalism degree you do! You just need to figure out what it is.

Since the only suggestion of a problem comes from highly biased sources and is contradicted by your own investigation, you can’t actually claim that there’s a problem. But then, who in their right mind would rely on your investigative work? You’re a tabloid reporter, not a respectable source of information! So that evidence can’t be as strong as your own findings suggest.

But how to express that? Of course! Make a shocking suggestion, add a question mark to show that you don’t necessarily claim it’s true, and wait for the papers to fly off the shelves!

To wit: Trouble Between PM and GG?

Out of Nowhere. Heading back that way?0

Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning, Hats Off, Gentlemen, Gaia (Thursday October 5, 2006 at 2:03 am)

After months of watching the government run Parliamentary circles around an opposition whose own strategy was remedial, at best, an observer might have had cause to wonder whether there were any experienced MPs on the opposition benches at all. Today’s vote, sending a private member’s bill to committee, proves that there are.

Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez’s Bill, C-288, has the potential to embarass the government by:

  • Requiring an annual account of measures to be taken to meet Kyoto objectives
  • Requiring Cabinet to enact legislation as necessary to implement those measures

C-288 is unlikely to become law for two reasons. Private members’ bills can be easily blocked by extending debate on government bills or Ministerial speeches or eliminated by opening a new Parliamentary session. Given that bills are randomly drawn for consideration from a large pool of potential legislation, it’s unlikely that a replacement bill would make it as far again. Second, while most of its provisions only require drafting of regulations, the requirement that the annual account include:

(iii) spending or fiscal measures or incentives

Is something the government may try to qualify as requiring public expenditure. If so, it can’t become law without an accompanying Royal Recommendation, which only the government can provide. The opposition will argue that this clause only requires the reporting of such measures where taken by the government without actually requiring the expenditure itself. The opposition will have the better of that argument.

Most importantly for the Liberals, the passage of this bill through first reading provides distraction from the auditor-general’s report on their own environmental record, and will, they hope, sap some momentum from the Tories’ public musings over environmental proposals to be named later.

But there’s a problem with this approach. While it’s guaranteed to accomplish those goals short-term, there isn’t much in it for a sustainable attack; and while forestalling government momentum is good politics, the Liberals are still in sore need of something positive to displace it. Besides which, the Tories’ public musings are just that — musings. There will be announcements of the actual program to come, and the Liberals won’t be able to brandish this vote a second time.

No doubt, the Liberal hope for a proposal rests on the outcome of their leadership contest; but Messianic leadership didn’t produce this success, and if the work of a near-rookie member, backed by an experienced caucus can have such successes, it’s not really a question of getting ideas from the leader. It’s a question of getting someone who can work with the strength already there.

See Iran’s Totally Rad Rods0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, By other means. . ., Crossroads of Culture (Wednesday October 4, 2006 at 2:57 pm)

The volley from Ahmadinejad’s Iran has a familiar ring to it. They won’t let UN nuclear inspectors examine Iranian research facilities, but they will let tourists wander through their power plants. After all, no one inspects things as thoroughly as random tourists.

This move will doubtless bring full exposure to such burning problems as whether female scientists must wear burqas at work, whether power plants are wheelchair-accessible, and how much hot dogs cost at the Bushehr facility’s snack bar. And of course, debriefing exercises will probably shed much-needed light on the peaceful use of nuclear arms:

INTEL AGENT: “Were they using nuclear material for weapons development?”

FANNYPACK-PACKING TOURIST: “Well, we didn’t see any missiles or anything. They had some fellas in white coats, but that’s about it.”

STRAW HAT-WEARING TOURIST: “Oh, and they showed us the rods, honey. Remember those rods?”

FPT: “I was getting to that, Bernice. Yeah, there were some rods in this big thing behind glass.”

IA: “This is important, folks, I need to you try to remember carefully. Did the rods or anything around you look enriched?”

FPT: “Well, I wouldn’t say they looked enriched. They did ask us not to use tripods, though.”

SHWT: “They said you could use one, Frank. You were just too cheap to pay for the pass!”

CHILD TOURIST: “I got a hat!”

The world can rest easy — the cream of human investigators are on the case.

Iran’s President has decided that a coordinated PR campaign is a way to garner public support and undermine the authority of those opposing him. In the face of continuing domestic problems, he not only needs to focus on generating external threats (see Chavez, Hugo), but to get help from outside to do it.

The question remains: will his efforts be as effective in achieving popular respect as those of his obvious model?

Condition: Specified0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, A House Divided (Wednesday October 4, 2006 at 12:18 am)

Headline from the National Post:

Holes drilled in concrete to determine condition of failed Quebec overpass

Condition would be ‘failed’ — that’s what the headline says. But of course, that’s too obvious, isn’t it?

The Wrong Right0

Posted by JJ in Hats Off, Gentlemen, Golden Tacks, Crossroads of Culture (Tuesday October 3, 2006 at 8:22 pm)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others’ calls for the restaging of Idomeneo by the Berlin German Opera Company are absolutely right. The edition to be staged, including a scene with the severed heads of several religious leaders, was cancelled over fears of violence from Muslim extremists (despite the fact that a previous staging in 2003 resulted in no such incidents). But by focusing on the threat to free expression, those fighting for liberal rights have ignored the legitimate foundation of Muslims’ complaint, and revealed that the real problem in this case and others isn’t expression — it’s conscience.

Of course there are some in the Muslim world exploiting these issues to sow fear of aWestern plot against Islam, those threats belong, with others, in the “to be ignored” pile. Blackmail begets blackmail, and as Chancellor Merkel and others have rightly observed, succumbing to the threat of violence is the surest way to magnify that threat.

The legitimate concern is harder to dismiss. For many Muslims, it is wrong to depict the prophet Mohammed. Hence, in some paintings and illustrations of Koranic tales, Mohammed is veiled (of course, the practice isn’t universal). Those Muslims who object to such depiction may genuinely be offended by such works as this version of Idomeneo.

The first response is the right one — liberal society doesn’t protect anyone from mere offence. Still, appeals to religious tolerance may demand forebearance.

Those are wrong in the most fundamental sense. The essence of religious tolerance in Western society stems from State persecution aimed at enforcing uniform behaviour. Faith became a major contention when Protestants broke from the Catholic Church; and rulers across Europe were often brutal in their efforts to impose the “right” choice on their subjects.

Queen Elizabeth’s response was typical of her clarity of insight:

I have no desire to make windows into men’s souls.

In ten words, the crux of that most cherished of liberal values: the freedom of the conscience. We may be required to do many things, and punished for many others, but the State cannot justify either command or condemnation by the need to control what we believe. It is from this fundamental principle that the right to religious belief, tolerance, and worship are born.

And this is the problem with calls for non-Muslims to respect Muslim practice. Religious tolerance means allowing those with beliefs to hold them, not requiring non-believers to do the same or, what is worse, act only in conformity with others’ beliefs.

This is the real threat to rights — not that to expression, which is always bounded by considerations of balance and propriety. It is the threat to freedom of conscience posed by allowing religious belief and practice to be imposed on nonbelievers for the sake of believers.

There remains the problem of offensiveness. When you know something will be offensive, there must surely be extra consideration. Common courtesy demands that we not allow ourselves to recklessly or cheaply offend others. But that is no matter for government, as those who attacked Danish embassies did not understand. Policing morals no more befits a state than threats of violence do deep religious feeling.

There may be no more fundamental right than this: the right to a conscience free to find its own way. We check our expressions daily, biting our tongues over harsh words, letting others take the spotlight, refraining from merely adding our agreement to a chorus, or ending a discussion with discretion. But our minds are not so easily checked, and often run on once our words run dry.

We can therefore tolerate the occasional attack on what we say, all in the name of sociability. But our freedom to believe — no matter how casually threatened — is too precious to yield.