Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Crystal Gazing 20070

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, The Elephant, A House Divided, Trillium, Crossroads of Culture (Sunday December 31, 2006 at 6:06 pm)

The Flash-Frozen Wonk isn’t really in the prediction racket. This is a house of analysis, not divination. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t like to think about it.

What that means is watching stories; and there are a few big ones in the coming year:

Tack to the Middle
Will Prime Minister Stephen Harper shift to dealing with middle-class ambitions in the coming year? Will that be enough to contain the opposition in a ring of suburban Tory strongholds?
Middle East
Does the US Democratic party have any way to impact the Iraqi situation? Will they bother to try, given the possibility that any improvement could still be claimed as a victory by the Republican administration?
East of Ontario
Will Quebec’s Premier get something worthwhile out of a federal government eager to secure its inroads in La Belle Province? Will the recent boost in Liberal fortunes prove as temporary as the economic boost from their convention?
Ontario at the Hustings
A government whose blunders (Health Premium) are long-behind them is headed to the polls. Will any issue large enough to rile Ontarians crop up to ruin Premier Dalton McGuinty’s hopes of a second majority?

That’s more than enough for one year, and far too much for one night. Here’s looking to the future, and a great New Year.

Self-Control0

Posted by JJ in Golden Tacks, Full-Timers (Saturday December 30, 2006 at 11:12 pm)

There are many reasons to oppose or support the gun registry, but one stands above all the rest: that constitutional fiat, good governance.

Those who portray much of political history as a transition from absolutism to freedom have a tendency to ignore this point, but a government can only ever act in accordance with the popular will. As easy as it is to understand that people will only take so much before rebelling, most folks continue to entertain the happy fables of absolute monarchy which made the rounds of the 17th century.

What history teaches is that a government which defies reality isn’t likely to last very long. And one which continually passes laws which it can’t enforce isn’t far removed from the boy who cried wolf, only more laughable.

This point was an essential part of James Madison’s 18th century condemnation of a Virginia proposal to fund religious education:

13. Because attempts to enforce by legal sanctions, acts obnoxious to go great a proportion of Citizens, tend to enervate the laws in general, and to slacken the bands of Society. If it be difficult to execute any law which is not generally deemed necessary or salutary, what must be the case, where it is deemed invalid and dangerous? And what may be the effect of so striking an example of impotency in the Government, on its general authority?

Whatever else might be said of the gun registry, this much is true. From the outset the government was confronted with the real possibility of mass civil disobedience:

. . .even the most fervent gun control supporter could not have anticipated the level of resistance to Bill C-68. . .six provinces and two territories backed a constitutional challenge to the firearms legislation. . .all four western provinces as well as Newfoundland opted out of administering the firearms program, meaning Ottawa had to directly incur the costs of doing so. Individual gun owners also proved obstinate, waiting until the last minute to apply for a licence or register their firearms and creating backlogs that were costly to unclog.

Confronted with uncooperative behaviour, the government began to bend:

In an attempt to placate critics, the Justice Department reduced registration fees and offered refunds, forcing the government to foot a bigger portion of the bill.

No wonder the program ran from a few millions into the billions of dollars, sparking a profoundly negative audit.

These are not the marks of mere disapproval. Some degree of controversy has been raised even over the registry’s completeness. The refusal of half the provinces to enforce federal law; the acknowledgement that registration would not take place without cutting or refunding the registration fees; the possibility that many millions of firearms possessed by otherwise law-abiding citizens have not been registered — these are the marks of rebellion; and only force or government acquiescence can quell that.

Whether, then, you believe in maintaining a registry or not, it should be clear that this registry is too ill-omened to live. If you’re keen to have guns registered, destroy the present registry and create a new one which does more to respect legal owners (read the last few letters). You eliminate what has become a twin symbol of mismanagement and authoritarianism and simultaneously make an effort to co-opt some current detractors. If you’re keen to eliminate the registry, there’s a more profound reason than being pro-gun ownership.

And that reason is the principle of parsimony in government: the ability to control anything else depends, first and foremost, on the ability to control oneself.

Visionary Leadership0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Vague Check (Tuesday December 19, 2006 at 5:52 pm)

Whatever else you might think of Michael Ignatieff, he’s a man of his word.

Just consider what he said in his breakout speech in March:

Let’s follow Stephan Dion’s leadership

How, oh how did he know?

Ready for his Closeup?0

Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning (Thursday December 7, 2006 at 2:32 am)

It’s hard to deny that good local publicity makes a difference in Canadian politics. Was it mere coincidence that the Liberal Party’s disappearance from western relevance followed the election of the first western Conservative leader? That’s why no one should be surprised by an improvement in Liberal fortunes over the four days of their convention.

What should surprise people is the Tory response. Quebec lieutenant Lawrence Cannon suggested that he was ready and eager to take the spotlight himself:

Give me 48 hours of continuous exposure on television and I’ll probably be more popular than I am now.

Which would be the first indication of Conservative willingness to do that; and it’s been a problem since the beginning.

Of course it’s because they’re afraid of presenting something off-message; but there’s more harm in deferring that than there is in allowing it. Besides which, poor performance by government spokespeople at present likely has little to do with their quality (what qualification but experience does a senior minister really need). It’s more likely to do with the fact that Conservative ministers (1) have no practice and (2) are deathly afraid that a single wrong move will crush their careers.

The good news about the first is that it’s easy to deal with. Let them speak. Mistakes will be made, but they should be made early on — if the Liberal rebound in Quebec demonstrates anything, it is that all sins are eventually forgotten. The fact that Prime Minister Harper prefers to keep information on a tight leash hurts in two ways. It keeps his Cabinet in a perpetual political state of semi-competent neophytes; and it makes him seem aloof and domineering. While his control during the election was important, he was also making regular statements to the press. Control without contact just isn’t the same kind of clever tactic.

The good news about the second is that being fired for miscues can be temporary. Again, all sins are eventually forgotten.

It’s doing nothing that’s irredeemable.

Then and Now0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, By other means. . ., Crossroads of Culture (Wednesday December 6, 2006 at 9:30 am)

As Canadian soldiers gripe about the public’s misunderstanding of the Afghan mission, opposition defence critic, Ujjal Dosanjh thinks he knows how things got so messed up:

Liberal defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh blamed the information vacuum on the Conservatives and their policy of muzzling ministers and officials.
“I have the utmost respect for Gen. Fraser, the work he’s done, and I understand his frustration,” said Dosanjh. “But it’s really up to the government to provide information. And they have not been providing that information.”
Opposition MPs and senators — especially parliamentary defence committees — have “fought tooth and nail” to be briefed on the latest goings on in Afghanistan, he said.

And as the Harper government is well-known for its incommunicado policy, that sounds just about plausible.

But hold on, hasn’t it been only two months since the opposition was confidently assuring Canadians that the mission lacked the very humanitarian efforts which General Fraser now insists are going on? If the opposition wants to blame public misapprehension on the lack of information, how did it come to its own conclusions? Could it be that the opposition’s claims were then as they appeared to be — a disingenuous decision to spread false news rather than inform Canadians?

But don’t take that too heavily to heart. If, as Mr. Dosanjh suggests, it’s the government’s job to inform the public, perhaps the opposition is left with no role to play but to mislead it.

Familiar Nonsense0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Doubletake/Doubletalk (Sunday December 3, 2006 at 10:11 pm)

The rewriting of history seldom follows the event so closely, but if there’s anything Canadians hold dear as a society, surely it must be the collective belief that Parliament does everything that matters. That is, of course, why the last Prime Minister tried to paint himself as a defender of rights. After all, do Canadians really trust the Courts to defend their rights?

Not if they have to read this kind of confusing nonsense from the media, courtesy of the Toronto Star:

Gay marriage became legal in Canada last year when Parliament passed Bill C-38 in response to a series of court rulings giving same-sex couples the right to marry.

So, if the Star has it right, same-sex couples could not legally marry until some point after they had already been given the right to marry. Is that right? Do the courts normally hand out legally unenforceable rights? Does the Star think that “Gay marriage” is something distinct from “same-sex” marriage?

Or is this a shameful attempt to make what was a halfhearted and after-the-fact “me too” by Parliamentarians out to have been an initiative?

Lessons Learned0

Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning (Saturday December 2, 2006 at 6:07 pm)

What did the Wonk learn from the Leadership Convention results?

Scott Brison and Joe Volpe still have no political sense.

Ken Dryden wants to be in politics, but isn’t sure what for.

Gerrard Kennedy has the eerie power to command absolute loyalty.

The Liberals haven’t yet figured out that it’s not about beating Harper — it’s about winning Canadians over.