Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Unintended Consequences0

Posted by JJ in Golden Tacks (Wednesday January 31, 2007 at 10:33 pm)

Unsure how to respond to growing inflation and stagnant economies in the 1970s, governments ramped up spending, amassing significant public debt. These liabilities became the rallying cry of a reborn conservatism when the programs they had funded failed to boost the economy.

There was a new wisdom: government should not spend beyond its means. Which, in common understanding, meant that borrowing should be eliminated as a feature of annual budgets.

Which conclusion puts governments in a unique fiscal position. Both individuals and businesses borrow money. Businesses in particular pride themselves on being able to “leverage” their assets by borrowing against them. Where the money borrowed can be profitably invested in other ventures, leverage can be a prudent way of getting more done with fewer resources. Individuals can do the same thing, borrowing against their homes for the money to invest elsewhere. It can be a risky approach, but so long as the benefit from the new investment is at least equal to the cost of borrowing, you’re no worse off.

Governments can have an advantage when it comes to leveraging assets. They can borrow funds at extremely low rates. And while it can be hard to value the benefit from investments in health care or the environment, many public projects, like roads and power generation can be profitably funded by issues of public debt. Some spending on borrowed money can, therefore, be just as effective and sensible for government as it is for private businesses.

But an unreasonably simplistic aversion to deficits continues, ignoring the purpose of intended borrowing. This is why those governments who attempt to leverage do so most often through bond issues tied to the projects in question. It provides additional security for the public, at no greater costs than the political and potentially lengthy delay.

Issues of bonds don’t generally qualify as leverage, since repayment is usually pledged against future income rather than existing assets. In the case of specific infrastructure projects, bonds can qualify as leverage.

Meanwhile, refurbishing assets, the bedrock of genuine leverage, is not so easily accomplished. Rather than incur the costs of renovations (owing in part to negligent maintenance), the Canadian government is preparing to sell buildings.

Is it clear that the cost of leasing back the space and reducing annual financing costs would be less than financing the refurbishing costs? Not necessarily. Is it clear that repaying net debt with the proceeds of such a sale would produce a greater reduction in annual financing costs than using the same proceeds to invest in infrastructure and programs? Not at all. Is it clear that debt repayment would be the public’s preferred choice? Yes.

Which means that years of demanding that the government be run “like a business” have ensured this above all: that it won’t be.

Between the Horns0

Posted by JJ in Hats Off, Gentlemen, Golden Tacks, Brass Tacks (Tuesday January 30, 2007 at 11:21 pm)

The dismissal of Mme Gélinas, environment commissioner, by Sheila Fraser, Canada’s auditor-general, was unquestionably the right decision. An office dedicated to neutral investigations cannot afford to become known for advocating or denouncing policies. Its task is to evaluate them.

But the dismissal, and Mme Gélinas’s outburst of support for environmental policies reveals a problem which neither modern democracies nor those who manage them have yet been able to solve.

Information is the lifeblood of democratic systems. If the public is not well-informed, it cannot make good decisions on policy. It may, however, be in a government’s interest to conceal information which would discredit them.

What to do, then, as a civil servant privy to information which suggests that urgent action be taken? What happens if the government refuses to act on or release it?

The Public Service’s oath requires silence; and with good reason. The public servant owes a duty, firstly, to the Minister whom he serves. Otherwise, he would be justified in releasing information whenever he disagreed with the Minister’s decisions.

Ministers are elected to make those decisions. Letting civil servants make them elevates the opinion of unelected civil servants over indirectly elected Cabinet members. The latter is somewhat more in keeping with democratic principles. After all, Ministers can be rejected at the ballot box. How does the public remove an obstructive civil servant?

Most dangerous, perhaps, is the legacy problem. One government might bind the hands of its successors by appointing civil servants likely to agree with its policies. If they were able to speak out when they disagreed with government policy, civil servants could then undermine the political enemies of their former masters.

None of which is much consolation to the official who passionately believes that the public must know something. Mme Gélinas’s outburst wasn’t a condemnation of government policies. Her report measured those by their own expectations. It was a cry for more, and one which was too general to constitute either critique or praise for government policy.

But how to leave the choice to speak in the hands of civil servants without inviting abuse isn’t yet clear. So the public service is left on the horns of a dilemna; and it is unfortunately those ahead who best see what’s coming next.

Watch Closely0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning (Sunday January 28, 2007 at 9:45 pm)

Voters in Canada have spent years either bowing out of voting or holding their breath and voting for the Liberals out of fear that the Conservatives (or the erstwhile Reform party). But now, there are workings afoot which could prove that what was laughably known as “strategic” voting may not be remotely necessary.

The theory behind strategic voting is that it is more important to keep party X from winning than it is to elect a party you want. This argument depends, in turn, that, one elected, a government will do anything it wants, without regard to future elections or public opinion.

Over time, this was a real boon for the Liberals, who relied on their role as poll-leaders to pick up voters keen to keep others out. Liberal candidates were often more likely to win than NDP candidates, meaning that boosting them could ensure the Tories’ defeat. Boosting the NDP raised the spectre of splitting the anti-Tory vote to let them come up the middle.

A potentially beneficial strategy, true; but one grounded in fear. Submitting to fear only makes your opponents’ task easier. Hope is the building block of civilization.

And what has happened of late should give hope to those who still believe in democracy.

Faced by an angry electorate and public furor over the environment, the Conservative government has begun to change its approach. They have reinstated programs they eliminated, and their opponents have not questioned the programs’ adequacy, merely the depth of the government’s commitment.

If then, public opinion and the threat of electoral loss can make a government change course; the underpinnings of strategic voting fall apart.

An interesting experiment then emerges — one to measure the mettle of voters. Will voters understand that information, and begin to make choices based on their hopes, or will they ignore it, and vote for their fears?

One-Trick Pony0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Gaia (Saturday January 27, 2007 at 11:09 pm)

There’s no question that sustainable environmentalism should be one pillar of a contemporary political party’s policy structure. Most stable buildings, though, have more than just one.

Liberal Party leader Stephan Dion has suggested that the party will focus its next campaign on the environment, forcing the Tories to deal with a persistent attack on the issue.

The last time such a focused strategy was tried in Canada was in 1988, when then-Liberal leader John Turner focused his attacks on the Free Trade Agreement with the United States. It provided the Tories under Mulroney with a stable, slow-moving target to attack.

Unlike Dion’s leadership campaign pledge to “three pillars”, this proposal will focus a fight on what remains a fairly vague principle. Saying you’re pro-environment is one thing, but eyes glaze over when talk begins of specifics.

While recent polls show roughly a quarter of Canadians most concerned with the environment as an election issue, that represents virtually no increase in six years. Besides which, that twenty-five percent will be split between the NDP, Liberals and Green Party. It’s not as alluring under those conditions.

The other legs of Dion’s original plan, a sustainable economy and social justice, are still resonant issues; and there’s no reason to jettison them when they can both siphon votes from the real opponent — the government. Focusing instead on just one leg means a shakier edifice.

And if the 1988 election should have taught the Liberals anything, it’s that a one-trick pony doesn’t win many races.

Just Plain Dumb0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Strategic Planning (Wednesday January 24, 2007 at 1:47 pm)

If you’re a scandal-ridden party trying to get past your history and climb your way back to legitimacy and government, there are a few words you should really avoid.

Stephane Dion, leader of the federal Liberal party, hasn’t quite realized this yet.

How else to explain his response to wholesale copying of Liberal policies by the government:

“Canadians will not be fooled,” Dion told his caucus as it met in Quebec City.

“They will know that there is something Mr. Harper cannot copy.

“It is the conviction, this conviction that we have as Liberals. Convictions about social justice in this country, about economic prosperity . here in Canada and abroad, the role of Canada in the world. This conviction will never be copied by Mr. Harper.”

Yeah. A party targetted for corruption is bragging about “conviction”. Careful, M. Dion. There’s no need to give the Tories easy targets.

Learning from the Lost0

Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning, The Elephant (Monday January 22, 2007 at 2:48 pm)

Michael Ignatieff’s recent campaign for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada had one important echo of his opponent, Gerard Kennedy’s campaign for Ontario’s Liberal leadership a decade earlier: hyperconfidence.

Overconfidence is a serious problem for people — it makes mistakes more likely. But hyperconfidence is a far more severe problem. It’s when you keep telling other people how confident you are.

The campaigns of these two men had one major feature in common: they were both frontrunners, so dubbed by press, poll, and party alike. Seizing on that strength, the men and their staff never failed to remind potential voters, party members, and the press of just how strong they were.

Every announcement of support from Ignatieff’s rivals drew his team’s hyperconfidence out: “We’ve got more than them, no matter what they say! You’ll see! You haven’t even seen what we’ve got yet!”

Which behaviour, in both cases, served only to harden the undeclared masses against them. Hyperconfidence looks to others like a strange combination of arrogance and boorishness; and few people are swayed by the prospect of following either recruiters who display it or the leaders whom they represent.

And the failure of these men’s campaigns, both starting from a base of over forty percent of the electorate, should be a signal to Hillary Clinton.

Having just announced her candidacy for the Presidency of the United States, and with early public polls showing her holding a substantial lead over her nearest rivals, Senator has some reason to be confident of her chances at taking the Democratic nomination.

But just like the men before her, a campaign which constantly reminds those outside her body of supporters of her strength is the surest way to ensure their alienation. In this respect her opening salvo, “I’m in to win,” is a dangerous beginning for her approach.

Polls that show her barely ahead of her chief rivals, Barack Obama and John Edwards, demonstrate how insubstantial such a lead can be. Moreso when one considers that candidates aren’t nominated nationwide, but by state. A commanding lead in New York and Florida may give her a strong showing in national polls, but when she moves from state to state, it won’t necessarily translate into the votes she needs to capture delegates.

That’s why Underdog should be her model, not Ubermensch.

The Forgetful Senor Chavez0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, The Other America (Saturday January 20, 2007 at 5:13 pm)

The redoubtable Hugo Chavez has made much hay from higher taxes and renegotiating contracts while the price of oi has soared. But his threat of nationalization, coming as it does just as the price begins to drop again, may not be quite enough to keep his Bolivarian revolution turning heads and attacking priests.

Avid followers of Latin heartthrobs like Sr. Chavez (he does make at least some hearts beat faster) may well recall his introduction, back in 1999, of a new constitution for Venezuela. That document, consolidating a great deal of power in the office of the President, was then touted as the “world’s most advanced constitution”.

But even a document as advanced as that isn’t quite enough for today’s Presidente-on-the-go! No, a modern leader needs powers on more of a baroque scale. Clearly, he’s envious of the Thai government.

After all, if the revolution never ends, who needs law? Legislation is designed to set up long-term rules — the sort of thing that no work-in-progress can really bear to suffer.

So for a country still undertaking the crucial steps towards some future post-revolutionary state, the simplest solution is the obvious one: give the President full authority to rule by decree.

And there are precedents. In 1918, faced with the similar problem of a glorious, ongoing revolution, backward opposition, and the vision of some distant, unknown utopia, the Soviet Constitution was drafted. In section 38, identical ruling authority was granted to the Comissar Council (headed by Lenin). It wasn’t limited to eighteen months, true, but then, the passage of a new constitution in 1924 constituted a time limit of sorts.

From the world’s most advanced constitution to a model of government embraced nearly ninety years ago. And in only seven years. To think that the Venezuelan Congress had forgotten what came of the Soviet. To think that Hugo Chavez has forgotten how amply the lessons of history illuminate the grotesquery of Venezuela’s descent into tyranny.

Passing the Buck0

Posted by JJ in The Bullock's Bride (Friday January 19, 2007 at 11:30 am)

Word of a proposal to end homelessness should attract attention. It’s a serious problem in need of a serious solution implemented by a compassionate and thoughtful society.

But of course, that doesn’t mean any particular plan is a good idea.

Consider this scheme of the French national government. In a tribute to simple, straightforward thinking, the President has proposed creating a right to housing. What that does to provide it is anyone’s guess.

The burden to do the latter will simply fall on other governments, mostly local. The purpose, then, of this stroke of political genius, is to get someone else to solve the problem.

That’s not fighting homelessness — it’s pencilling in someone else’s name on the fight card if you chicken out of a match. It’s a case of passing the buck without passing any bucks.

Great Arguments — The Tyrant’s Tirade0

The Frosty Wonk’s primary line of work is political analysis, not rhetoric. But the cut-and-thrust of modern debate demands some effort at unraveling its arguments.

Today’s guest, Rock Samson, has coached prizewinning fighters in twelve disciplines since his discharge from an undisclosed paramilitary group. This makes him uniquely qualified to discuss questions of conflict; and he has agreed to offer his valuable services as a regular commentator on debating technique and argumentation.

Today, we’ll be discussing this piece, in which Gary Kamiya, Salon editor, recycles his own work from 2005 on the conflict in Iraq.

Rock: Wonk, Kamiya’s angry. The war’s ragin’ and he’s mad as a bear in a trap that nobody’s bitchin’ about it.

Wonk: But Rock, people are complaining. He’s complaining, isn’t he? There are protests all the time.

Rock: Not enough, Wonk. A few thousand protesters can’t gum up the works the way Kamiya wants. He’s lookin’ for an all-out brawl with the big boys — streets choked with men and women until the President cracks.

Wonk: Why does he think that’s likely to happen?

Rock: It’s gotta. Kamiya knows that any sane person wants to fight against the war with everything it takes.

Wonk: So why don’t they?

Rock: They don’t know what’s good for ‘em. If they were payin’ attention and had all the facts, they’d all agree with him.

Wonk: Is that what he means when he writes that:

It is too late to stop the fatal endgame of Bush’s war. But at least we can honor those who have died in that war, Iraqis and Americans alike, by refusing to look away from their deaths.

Rock: Right on. He knows that if you’re payin’ attention to the deaths, you’re against the war.

Wonk: But isn’t it possible for people to come to different conclusions based on the same facts?

Rock: Not if they’re usin’ their brains. That’s what rational thinkin’s for! There’s only one answer to any question. If you plug the right facts in, you’ll get the right answer. There’s just no other way.

Wonk: But reason doesn’t work that way. It’s not the same thing as logic — reasonable people can differ over the same things.

Rock: Kamiya’s not buyin’ that. Reason only has one answer — his; and he’s goin’ to the wall for it.

Wonk: So why does he bother to assume that people are reasonable?

Rock: Flatters ‘em. Check out Aristotle some time, Wonk, he explains why that matters.

Wonk: And if he claimed that people were incapable of coming to the right conclusion, he’d effectively be pointing to a problem with democracy, wouldn’t he? If people aren’t capable of coming to the right notion, then there’s a strong justification for excluding them from most kinds of decision-making.

Rock: Hold on there, ’cause you’ll love the rest. If everybody’s reasonable, and reason always gives the same answer on the same facts, then he’s got dynamite proof that folks don’t know the facts — they disagree with him! That makes his claim righter.

Wonk: I don’t think you can use that word that way.

Rock: ‘Proof’? Sure you can.

Wonk: Alright. So Kamiya’s argument says that people would complain if they knew what was going on, and that we know they don’t know what’s going on because they aren’t complaining.

Rock: You got it.

Wonk: How does he know that he’s the one who’s right? Isn’t everyone going to come to the same conclusion and justify it the same way?

Rock: Sure they could, but he knows his argument against the war’s right. So now, he’s got to explain why other folks don’t agree.

Wonk: So this is really a frustrated outburst? A temper tantrum?

Rock: Right.

Wonk: But if he thinks he’s right, why is he bothered by the fact that others disagree?

Rock: It’s a serious issue, Wonk. He’s sure that if enough people agreed, they’d be able to end the war!

Wonk: So the fact that he wants this to happen by convincing the public demonstrates his commitment to democratic principles?

Rock: Probably.

Wonk: But the idea that there can be only one right answer for any reasonable person is profoundly undemocratic! It’s authoritarianism applied to thinking! It’s tyranny!

Rock: Not no more it ain’t, Wonk. Not no more it ain’t.

Irrelevant Truths, Damn Lies, and Statistics0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Gaia (Monday January 15, 2007 at 2:39 am)

As the trainwreck of journalism at the Star continues, the following crops up:

The Conservatives have avoided any linkage between tax policy and environmental reform.

Which explains the Conservatives’ marketing of their transit pass tax credit:

Now public transit helps you protect the environment and save more money.

Perhaps the Star was merely being meticulously pedantic. After all, it’s a tax credit the Conservatives are promoting, not a policy of issuing tax credits. If so, gentlemen, then bravo.

Of course, the government’s program is really far more tax credit than environmental protection; but that doesn’t justify the spread of falsehood or the substitution of prejudice for analysis.

So why not engage in just a bit?

The transitpass has already been mooted, vetted, and rejected hereabouts when it comes to helping the environment. But that’s not the only kind of government rebate “linked” to the environment. After all, the Energuide program for homes provided rebates of up to $7,000 to homeowners improving the efficiency of their homes (until axed by the Conservatives last year). And that program, in place since 1998, can’t be credited with making a real environmental impact if you consider that the environmental situation has only deteriorated since then.

Which goes to show only this: a system of tax incentives linked to environmental policies may be more popular than a tax incentive without such a connection; but that doesn’t mean that such incentives provide anything more than monetary benefits.

Persuading the voters that they can save money and help the environment is like shooting fish in a barrel (the fish, not you). What Canadians are still waiting on is a proposal to stop the practices that cause so much trouble in the first place. And where past incentives have failed miserably to accomplish that goal, it’s hard to put much faith in their future reincarnations.

Espèces de Crétin0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Golden Tacks, A House Divided (Sunday January 14, 2007 at 10:03 pm)

The announcement that the federal and provincial Quebec separatist parties will be working together to fight this year’s elections was, most likely, intended to strike fear into the hearts of federalists. It shouldn’t.

There are two possibilities: that they’ve done this before; or that they haven’t.

If they have, it hasn’t yet created the surge of separatist power that tears Canada asunder.

If not, there’s just one question: why should it take fifteen years of coexistence before two non-competing parties with identical interests decide to work together on their common mission?

Is that evidence of a strategic genius that federalist forces should fear, or of a bumbling self-sabotage which should undercut this separatist boast?

In The Journalistic Dump0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press (Saturday January 13, 2007 at 3:43 pm)

Some might recall that day, not long ago, when the Toronto Star decided that controversies suggested by the opposition constituted news of controversy, rather than news of the opposition making partisan speeches.

Clearly not a tabloid to dispose of time-worn strategies, the editorial staff has allowed another such story to pass muster, this time letting partisan comments by John Godfrey, one-time Liberal leadership candidate and continuing MP for Don Valley West, constitute the substance of discontent among NDP supporters.

The story goes thus:

  • If the NDP goes to the polls now, they’re likely to lose seats.
  • If the NDP supports the Tories by working with them on environmental legislation, they prop up the Tory regime.
  • John Godfrey, a Liberal, says that NDP supporters are angry because they would rather see the Tories out of power than effective environmental legislation put in place.
  • At least one NDP supporter has acknowledged that they must both fight the Tories on other issues and ensure that effective environmental legislation is passed soon.
  • Therefore, Layton is doomed if he does, and doomed if he doesn’t.

And of course, anything party members say about their opponents must be true, right? Especially if it falls in line with their past partisan criticism of the same opponents. The fact that Layton’s position raises potential problems is certainly a worthy topic for political analysis; but if the only substantiation for the claim that his supporters are unhappy comes from his opponents, that part of the story is too suspect to be presented as the Star does:

Indeed, in some quarters, Layton is still not forgiven for his decision to force the election that put the Conservatives in power a year ago, a move that critics say has rolled back achievements on daycare, aboriginal issues, the cities’ agenda and the environment.

Which quarters? They won’t say. But the only “critic” cited is Mr. Godfrey.

Which means that the paper decided to write the piece this way, needed some quotes to support their claim that the controversy was serious, and therefore called a source certain to furnish said quotes. The fact that Liberal MPs have no credibility in commenting on opponents’ political fortunes is of no consequence — it’s not like the Star is looking for journalism. Or truth. Or even respectibility.

Before, one might merely have questioned the Star’s journalistic integrity. Now, even the premise that it is a neutral mouthpiece for politicians seems in question.

Waiting for Godot0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Vague Check (Friday January 12, 2007 at 2:23 pm)

Yesterday’s announcement by Prime Minister Harper of a new wait-time program should raise some eyebrows.

The program will develop a nationwide information system to collect information on wait times for six paediatric areas. Once in place, the system will make it possible to determine just how long kids are waiting for the care they need. Naturally, the announcement doesn’t mean that wait times will be reduced — just that we’ll know how long they are.

Which begs the question: why does the government think this is a good idea?

The provincial governments agreed to a set of wait-time targets just last year, having already decided on a series of priorities. Can’t the federal government work with them to advance that project? Why set up a parallel program lagging the provincial one by one step?

The federal government is hoping that their emphasis on children’s health care will be enough of a difference to set their program apart. The provincial program will focus on different areas:

  • Radiation therapy to treat cancer within four weeks of patients being ready to treat
  • Hip fracture fixation within 48 hours
  • Hip replacements within 26 weeks
  • Knee replacements within 26 weeks
  • Surgery to remove cataracts within 16 weeks for patients who are at high risk
  • Breast cancer screening for women aged 50 to 69 every two years
  • Cervical cancer screening for women aged 18 to 69 every three years after two normal tests

Children are an abundant mine of empathy, but if the government hasn’t started to collect data yet, what evidence do they have that there are comparable problems in respect of children’s care? The provinces have already done surveys to determine what areas have greatest need; and they represent a diverse enough group of parties and regions to reject the theory that they decided, en masse, to abandon children’s issues in favour of a more politically expedient focus on older patients and women. Don’t those two groups of voters care about children, too?

Besides which, working with the provinces to reduce wait times in these areas would build administrators’ ability to do just that, speeding future reductions. Working in parallel on two separate tracks is therefore likely to take longer than applying joint efforts to each in sequence.

But in reviewing both programs, there is one striking similarity. They’re both designed to force the development of proposals to reduce wait times, not to force action on wait times. The timelines for the latter are so elongated that relief seems anything but imminent.

If, then, you ask what the arrival of children on the rhetorical field of health care means, it is that shorter wait times will not come today, but surely to-morrow.

For The Record0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Hats Off, Gentlemen (Thursday January 11, 2007 at 6:30 pm)

Ladies and Gentlemen, the scorecard for “The Repentent Radio Host”, the “Seceded Secessionist”, Jean LaPierre. In just over two years of play since his return to federal (and federalist) politics in 2004, LaPierre managed to rack up an unimpressive record of irrelevance and failure as Quebec Lieutenant for Prime Minister Martin and Minister of Transport.

Fighting the Bloc
Bloc seats in Quebec went from 38 in 2000 to 54 in 2004 to 51 in 2006. Their vote count went from 1.37 Million to 1.67 Million to 1.55 Million. Even with the sponsorship scandal accounted for, Mr. LaPierre’s effect is, to put it politely, hard to measure.
Fighting for the Liberals
Liberal seats in Quebec went from 36 in 2000 to 21 in 2004 to 13 in 2006. Well done.
Fighting Words
Mr. LaPierre called Gilles Duceppe a “Nazi” for suggesting that the Liberals would be “eliminated” in coming elections, and a “coward” for not abandoning federal politics to run for the provincial party’s leadership. Presumably, Mr. LaPierre had already realized that the place for cowards is in federal politics.
Fighting for Canadians
Presided over Transport Canada while an open-skies agreement was concluded with the US. Signed air transport agreements with China and India. Saw increased investment in container facilities in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Reduced fees from airports (spin-offs of the federal government) to the federal government, lest they fail and the federal government have to take over their running again.
Special Honours
*Received the fewest votes of any Liberal candidate in the ever-red riding of Outremont since a by-election in 1942.
*There were 25% more voters in Outremont in 2004 and 2006 than in 1942.

But the real question, naturally, is whether this “star candidate” qualifies as one of the most laughable seat-warmers in history? Even against competition like this, the smart money is on LaPierre.

Hats off? In celebration. Good riddance, Mr. LaPierre, and thank you for courageously leaving federal politics, just as the going gets rough for a party trying to make its way back from opposition.

Nothing Doing0

Posted by JJ in The Elephant, Crossroads of Culture (Wednesday January 10, 2007 at 7:36 pm)

And the Democrats’ strategy to win in Iraq is off, with an unsurprising play!

Senator Kennedy (you know the one) is set to block President Bush’s plan to send an additional 20,000 US troops to Iraq. Notwithstanding that this comes at least three years after more troops were needed, the first move of the new Congressional leadership will ironically be to keep the President from changing things in Iraq.

Ironic, because that’s what we call “staying the course”, a strategy championed by President Bush barely three years ago; but one since abandoned in the face of a profound attack of common sense.

So why would the Democrats want to “stay the course”? Simple.

Let’s assume, just for a moment, that there is no real solution to the US’s problems in Iraq which can be implemented between now and the next Presidential inauguration (January 2009).

If so, then whether the Democrats have such a solution or not, implementing it now won’t help them win the next set of elections (one with a Presidential race and everything!) Moreover, fixing things now just might help the President look better, which eliminates the anti-Republican fervour they’re hoping will help carry Middle America over to their side.

Better by far, then, to stop him from doing much of anything, especially when it’s something as unpopular as the possibility of more American troops exposed to dangerous conditions. The longer he stays the course, the better they look as an alternative; and if they can keep passing laws to make that happen, they look like they’re actually doing something at the same time. Not half bad.

Stay the course, Big Teddy, stay the course.

The Long and the Short0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning, Gaia (Monday January 8, 2007 at 11:40 am)

As the other shoe drops, and the Tories’ sharpest cudgel brays sweet nothings about climate change, the problem with the Liberal plan to strike hard on the environment hits its second snag.

The Liberal record of inaction yields two problems:

  • Lacking the credibility to claim that they’re environmental stewards.
  • Lacking even the credibility to call the Tories johnny-come-latelies to the issue.

Which is not to say that it’s the wrong strategy. Far from it. It just may not be the strategy to win the next election. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not the right combination of sustainability in development and environmental care that mark the long-term road to success.

If they’re smart, they’ll work just as hard, but temper their expectations with the advice of their most successful leader:

It means Conservatives for a while, then a Liberal government with a longer lease on power after.*

*William Lyon Mackenzie King, Prime Minister, 1921-1930, 1934-1948, on hearing of R.B. Bennett’s victory in the 1930 general election

In Front and Behind0

Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning (Saturday January 6, 2007 at 4:01 pm)

If ever you’re called upon to explain the difference between Stephen Harper and Paul Martin, don’t feel compelled to read some well-written, lengthy tome. Just note this:

When Paul Martin needed a floor-crosser to secure upcoming votes, he promoted the member to his front bench.

When Stephen Harper needed a floor-crosser to secure upcoming votes, he didn’t.

Yes, yes. There’s the Emerson issue. But there’s a big difference there. Emerson crossed right after the election. There’s no reason to turn down help at any time, but Harper didn’t particularly need to avoid a confidence measure at the time. Regardless of the state of the Liberal Party’s leadership, there was no chance that the opposition parties wanted a third election in fewer years. Wajid Khan’s crossing came, like Belinda Stronach’s, in a time of need.

The Conservatives now have, with the NDP, a bare majority in the House. That means that if Harper’s plan to gain NDP support by sucking them into the reform of his Clean Air Act is successful, the government will gain a major victory on the environment, flattening Liberal leader Stephan Dion’s main sail. With the NDP willing to offer support, both to show their own usefulness and to beat the Liberals back on the issue, it just might work out.

Whether Belinda Stronach would have crossed with or without a Cabinet post, the optics of having an opposition member cross to sit as a back-bencher are much greater than having them cross to sit as a Minister.

And that’s the difference between Martin and Harper. In the same circumstances, Harper chooses the smarter path.