Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

High-Water Mark0

Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning, Gaia (Monday March 12, 2007 at 7:51 pm)

The fight over global warming may be a bout that lifts all tides, but its god-child Kyoto, may ultimately prove a peril to the environmental movement. A bit counter-intuitive, yes, but there’s a reason for thinking so.

Kyoto provides a beautiful confluence of messages. If you’re for “keeping Canada in Kyoto”, you’re arguing for Canada to honour international agreements, which plays to the Canadian’s identity as a good international player, either flattering her for being one, or shaming her for not being one. It also makes the choice to be an environmentalist easy: you’re either for Kyoto and the environment, or against Kyoto and the environment. The fact that there are costs for being for Kyoto is as nebulous to the average person as the fact that there are costs for being against Kyoto. Therefore, saving those already interested in environmentalism, these considerations don’t really play into the mix.

What pro-Kyoto advocates therefore have at their disposal is the combined force of international goodwill (comity) and environmentalism with no evident costs. That’s a great message and an easy sell.

Which is where trouble lurks. The ease of selling “let’s do Kyoto” (try pronouncing “do” as “dough” — it helps) will boost the ranks of supporters, but the costs associated with implementing it may not prove as alluring to the general public. That means that at least some of those who now join the green chorus are likely to leave when talk turns from agreeing to meet Kyoto standards and doing what’s necessary.

And this is where environmentalists may run into future problems. Messaging for specific choices, such as reduced automobile use and changes in power consumption patterns isn’t gifted with the same embarassment of riches as pro-Kyotoness; and some possibilities, such as alternative fuels (nuclear, wind, solar) are contentious even among hard-core adherents to the environmental banner.

All of which means that winning the Kyoto issue may make it harder for the movement to get the actual policies it demands passed. Setting aside all nefarious purposes, it might be more beneficial, in the end, for them to avoid engaging Kyoto, providing (at least until 2012) a suitable hook for whatever other policies they hope to boost. It will be easier to justify other policies to compensate for non-compliance with Kyoto than to justify those policies once Kyoto is put in place.

If so, Kyoto’s adoption may prove an uncomfortable high-water mark for environmentalists; and that bodes careful consideration of the issue’s role in their longer-term strategy.

Fighting for the Other Side0

Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning, Gaia (Friday March 2, 2007 at 10:50 pm)

The lesson of the recent poll suggesting that the federal Conservatives are outpacing the Liberals isn’t that the Tories are secure. Neither is it the ebb of Liberal support, evident even in polls cited in rebuttal by their most unapologetic supporters. Nor is the lesson, as Warren Kinsella put it, that Liberals might do better by attacking their political opponents than by attacking pollsters.

But it’s closest to that last one.

It’s simply this: don’t campaign for your opponents.

Without the credibility to deal with an issue, fighting to make it the issue only benefits those with the credibiity to speak to it. Given that, who would be surprised to see support slipping from the Liberals to the Green Party as the Liberals pummel the airwaves with environment talk?

Does that explain the Greens’ leader’s — Elizabeth May’s — eagerness to shower Dion with praise?

And what does it say about Dion’s support for May’s inclusion in televised debates? Does he really think that the Greens will be tag-teaming the Tories with him, even as their chances lie with swiping his support?

For Trained Ears Only0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Strategic Planning, Gaia (Wednesday February 14, 2007 at 11:50 am)

There was a time, before the creation of nationwide media, when party leaders needed help. The difficulty of reaching people nationwide meant that local champions would carry the message in their regions, and local candidates in their ridings. The advent of mass, nationwide media has made the party leader directly accessible. By radio, television, daily newspapers, and internet, the leader can bring her message, at one stroke, to millions of homes.

This change affects the messengers — local campaigns are less significant when the everpresent central campaign reaches more voters more often than even the most committed campaigners. The change also affects the message — repeated exposure offers a chance to hammer home key points. While it might be tempting to use the many days of campaigning to dish up an endless series of promises, variety is more likely to confuse than convince; and with every message available nationwide, announcements are harder to tailor to individual regions or ridings. All of which helps to explain the growing significance of party leadership over the past century.

But centralization of this kind is a risky proposition. When responsibility is consolidated in a single man, there is no fallback or redundancy. His failure will be the party’s, and there is little or nothing the party can do to protect itself from the consequences. Consider the impact of Stockwell Day’s leadership on his party’s fortunes in the 2000 election and thereafter.

The crucial point to take from this for the moment, is that leaders must now stand alone, for better or for worse. Jason Cherniak has recently stood up for Liberal Leader Stephan Dion’s decision to make the environment his message. In doing so, though, he’s revealed a fundamental problem with Dion’s approach.

It’s not the preposterous assertion that Dion’s victory in the Liberal leadership was owed to his focus on the environment, rather than the arcane mechanics of leadership contests. It’s that he feels the need to explain what Dion means:

Dion’s platform [during the leadership contest] was to give the environment equal prominence with social justice and economic growth. That is where the idea of a “third pillar” comes from. This means that when you talk about spending on social programs and growing the economy, you also talk about environmental sustainability. This is not because the environment is taking prominence - it is because the environment is being treated equally.

Of course, to our untrained ears this sounds like Dion talks only about the environment. That is not really true. The truth is that he talks always about the environment. No social justice or economic initiative will ever pass into a Dion Liberal platform without consideration for its environmental impact. Again, Dion was elected because of his equal treatment of the environmental pillar, not in spite of it.

Super! But, if true, then why isn’t Dion saying it? Isn’t speaking of the environment a confusing way to speak of other things? It’s what you might call bad messaging.

Besides which, as effective as Cherniak’s gracious interpretation may be, it’s up to Dion to make the message. If the leader’s message can only be grasped with “trained ears”, it’s not good enough. Relying on a swarm of priestlike interpreters to get the “real” message across makes as much sense as sending out flyers written in code.

But that’s the problem with any group of initiates. The fact that they understand lets them explain the great secret to others; but it’s not worth many people’s time to seek out their help. When the leader speaks without mediation, there’s no opportunity for the priests to jump in. Or to put it another way. . .spin doctors are really helpful when you mess up. If you need them on your main message, you’re in real trouble.

But that’s the other problem with a circle of initiates: they tend to keep the faith, no matter what.

It’s 1993 All Over Again — Again0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Gaia (Friday February 2, 2007 at 9:09 pm)

With Stephan Dion, Liberal Leader, crying “environment, environment, environment”, you might have been wondering whether Tory Stephen Harper would soon play the Kim Campbell to Dion’s Jean Chretien. Unless you’re a Liberal, in which case you’re either convinced that he already is or praying nightly for him to be.

Faced with Chretien’s campaign pledge of “Jobs, jobs, jobs”, Campbell denied that unemployment or the deficit could be properly remedied much before the end of the 1990s. She was eventually proven right. The deficit wasn’t reined in until 1998, and employment took off around the same time. None of that was of much consolation to a Conservative party which had come close to oblivion in that campaign.

And now, faced with a similar message from Dion, Harper has decided to state the obvious: that there is no quick fix for climate change and global warming. Few would disagree; but that’s not what matters.

The real question is: will his candour be as disastrous for his fortunes as it was for his predecessor’s?

High Stakes Over the Rockies0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning, Gaia, Rocky Waters (Thursday February 1, 2007 at 10:10 am)

Do you know why approving $30 Million in spending in an opposition riding is a sacrifice? Of course you do. Spending usually belongs in government ridings.

What makes this particular spending worth thinking about isn’t that it’s one step in securing NDP support for the government. It’s that it increases the government’s profile in a riding which they have a shot of winning.

Consider that in 2006, the NDP took nearly 2.6 Million votes nationwide, the highest total count for them since 1988 (note: there were 30% more potential voters in 2006 than in 1988). Their candidate’s, Nathan Cullen’s, victory in this riding — Skeena-Bulkley Valley — in 2006 was by a greatly increased margin (nearly 300% larger at roughly 5,800 votes). Over whom, you may ask? That’s the important part — it’s the Tories.

It’s not just that the Conservatives are the NDP’s principal challengers in that riding. Their predecessor party — Reform — had held all three predecessor ridings (Skeena, Prince-George-Bulkley Valley, and Cariboo-Chilcotin) since 1993. Granted that the reorganization has made NDP support in the new riding stronger than it was in any of the old ones; but the 2004 margin of victory — 1,300 votes — isn’t insurmountable for a dedicated electioneer with the right candidate.

Cullen’s performance in 2006 outpaced the NDP’s nationwide upsurge in votes; but that’s not to say he’ll be perfectly safe. Remember, too, that BC voters had the last say in 2006, and were able to see the results shaping up in the Maritimes and Quebec before their polls closed. Could a chunk of Cullen’s lead have been a reaction to the Conservative’s performance elsewhere? BC was the only province where the Tories underperformed, losing five seats. The connection is worth considering.

Don’t doubt for a moment that the Tories have. A quick cash injection can be a real boost to your chances in a particular riding. That’s why the story here is about far more than pending NDP support for the Tory budget. The Conservatives and NDP are playing a very high-stakes game. The NDP may lose support in BC if the Tories look more affable; and Nathan Cullen may do better in his riding if he can bring home the political bacon.

The question in Skeena-Bulkey Valley is: who’s going to win?

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.

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.

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

Taking Stock of Laughter0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Vague Check, Gaia (Monday November 20, 2006 at 7:38 pm)

“Laughingstock” is the new moniker the Liberal opposition is hoping will stick to Harper’s Conservative government. But questions abound.

First, yes, it is such a lazy attempt to brand the man that’s unlikely to do more than galvanize existing support (and, perhaps, drive swing voters to less theatrical, more issue-minded options).

Second, yes, the two “fossil of the day” awards received by Canada at the global climate talks mark the second year running Canada has received the prestigious dishonour, and the Tories are now the second Canadian government to be so honoured.

Third, no, this isn’t the first time a Canadian Prime Minister has grandstanded over nothing.

And finally, yes, this would be the second Canadian Prime Minister to be a laughingstock on the world stage. Any guesses on who the first was?

For Want of a Slap0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Gaia (Wednesday November 15, 2006 at 11:48 pm)

Canadian Environment Minister Rona Ambrose has self-servingly blamed Canada’s poor track record on emissions control on the former government at the UN conference in Nairobi. But she wasn’t alone. Representatives of all three opposition parties tagged along, self-righteously claiming that they represented the majority of Canadians.

Now, those parties are upset:

Environmentalists and critics from all three opposition parties said it was inappropriate to use the UN conference for partisan purposes, and accused the minister of factual inaccuracies.

Clearly that’s not what they meant. What they meant was that it’s wrong for the government to use a UN conference for partisan purposes. It’s okay for everyone else.

Playing Along0

Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning, Gaia (Monday November 6, 2006 at 10:24 pm)

The NDP, sensing Liberal efforts to steal their turf, have responded in superb fashion.

The NDP offered what looks like productive help. The key? The NDP knows the government can’t accept it. By making a positive, helpful gesture, they compel the government to draw attention to its fear of disapproval over its environmental policy and thus, tacitly admit that the policy isn’t saleable. The Liberals, a day late, and a dollar short, rush to say “Me, too!” as surely as the NDP previously copied Liberal strategies.

But being first with the gesture garners the NDP extra credit. And as they’re coming up with ways to make things right, they look productive, which goes a long way with voters looking for a solution. As the environment looms larger as an issue, it’s likely that there’s some chance to get a bit of extra traction. By making a positive effort to work with the party in power, the NDP show that they’re not only trustworthy standard-bearers for the environment, but standard-bearers willing to work with others to get the job done. After-the-fact Liberal claims that their offer was more suitable drown in the same indifference to the niceties of Parliamentary procedure that brought them plaudits for pro-Kelowna legislation.

The ability to work with either likely governing party is what Jack Layton’s selling; and it’s hard to turn that down if ideological purity and committment to a policy is your preference. Moreover, it’s not something the Liberals can really market. This is why the NDP under Layton has consistently maintained the 15%+ level of support they hadn’t enjoyed since 1988 under Ed Broadbent.

It’s why the Liberals can’t compete with the NDP for their share of the electorate. They’ve got to go after the big target: Conservative support. While their private member’s bill was a good effort at a positive message, its likely target, environmentally-minded voters, probably aren’t among Tory supporters to begin with; and the Liberals lack the street cred to swipe NDP and Green support on the environment.

It’s a good model for the Liberals to follow; but this isn’t their issue; and playing nicely with others doesn’t win you the big prize: a majority. It’s a different game that the Liberals need to play, and chasing the littlest kid on the Parliamentary block isn’t the way to get there.

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.

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?

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.

In His Own Words0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is just good sense.

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

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

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


Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning, Gaia (Friday June 30, 2006 at 8:36 am)

With word out that Canadians are worried about global warming, the Still-Chilled Wonk figures the usual Liberal sites will soon be “freely thinking” about two things:

  • How big a mistake it is for the Tories to dump Kyoto
  • Why it’s important that the Liberals promote Kyoto

Both of which ignore the real problem: credibility.

It’s politics, not Captain Planet, that they’re playing with, so a theme song, youngsters with heart, and snappy tights just don’t cut it. Repeating “Kyoto” won’t work for the Liberals for one main reason: they blew it.

It doesn’t matter how many studies suggest that the last-minute proposals of the Martin government in 2005 could have mostly met the protocol’s requirements — which, by the way, is the policy equivalent of being mostly pregnant. The Liberals sat on the issue for over a decade while conditions deteriorated. And that, more significantly than meeting the targets at the end, is part of the problem. During the Liberal mandate, more pollution, rather than less, was the norm, even as they proclaimed themselves, over and over, to be committed to Kyoto; and that means that their inaction allowed the situation to worsen — far more serious than merely not improving.

Which means that, even if implementing Kyoto should be the first priority of a Liberal government, promising that isn’t the way to get to government. Having spent so long messing things up, the Liberals don’t have the credibility to make that pledge. It’s the NDP who have that credibility; and let’s not be stupid, helping the NDP isn’t a way for Liberals to win (no matter how much blather you hear about uniting “progressive” forces) — it’s a way to ensure that the Conservatives come up the middle in more Ontario ridings. Liberals, like Tories, must play to win. It’s a little thing called desire that the Tories show by setting out to challenge their parliamentary allies on their own turf. A stark contrast with the Liberal electoral tactic of being your strategic second choice.

All of which means that what Liberals need to take advantage of this public mood is a creative response — a new message to take to those concerned about the environment. They need to build credibility on the issue without constantly dredging up a reminder of their past inadequacy. It’s a difficult task, not least because it can go so very wrong; but it’s a chance to differentiate themselves from both the NDP and the Tories, show themselves in a new light, and carve out a constituency, and connections with it, that could support them for decades to come.

That’s what you call a crisitunity. The question remains: is the party crafty and creative enough to seize it?

*See crisitunity, language lovers! JJ

Moving Voters0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Vague Check, Gaia (Friday December 30, 2005 at 10:36 pm)

The Conservatives have released a public transit proposal, consisting of a 16% tax credit on the receipted amount spent on public transit fares. Any purchase of passes or bulk purchases of tickets would be eligible for the tax credit, the value of which would therefore vary considerably. In addition, the credit could be transferred within a given family, so that a parent could claim amounts in respect of children or a spouse. The Conservative website calculates an average value of $153 for the credit, dependent, of course, on whether commuters actually ask for receipts.

The Liberal response to this proposal has been far better than most. Naturally, there is an irrelevant shot taken at Conservative opposition to Bill C-48. C-48 was a brief bill allowing the Minister of Finance to spend part of the budget surplus. In it, $900 Million was allocated to the environment, including (but not limited to) public transit and energy-efficient upgrades to low-cost housing. The Bill gives broad discretion to the Minister in allocating those funds, and doesn’t specify what portion is going to “public transit” or what that money goes to (hopefully, they weren’t paying icebreaker prices for whatever they spent it on).

The other objections are a mixed bag:

Funding a tax credit doesn’t create new transit systems
True. The trickle-down effect from a potential increase in use (more later) is likely to be too small to justify the infrastructure costs for cities to create new systems.
No expansion of capacity in existing systems
True. No funding goes to the system, and the increase in use, again, would likely be small.
Public transit won’t become more accessible or affordable
False. If accessibility means making it easier for people to use public transit, that’s just not true. A $153 reduction in the cost is still a reduction in the cost. The Liberals might be pointing to the fact that a tax credit only shows up after income tax is paid, therefore making transit no more affordable to those who are too poor to afford it now; but that doesn’t mean that those who can afford it don’t end up spending less, neither does it mean that there aren’t many people for whom it might make a difference. Those who scrape by would find it easier to get that money back at the end of the year.
It won’t significantly increase ridership
True. People take cars either because of convenience or because they must. Most commuters who choose cars because they have to use one to get to work either can’t get to work by public transit or because there is some other compelling reason for the car. Considering the cost of a car, if it was only obtained in order to commute to work, $153 isn’t likely to make the difference between choosing the car or choosing public transit. If the driver already has the car and doesn’t have to use it to get to work, then it must be chosen for convenience’s sake. Those who choose the car for convenience, be it greater flexibility in travel times, cargo, or itineraries, aren’t likely to be moved by the credit. Convenience shows up every time you use the car — it’s more significant than a minor contribution to the car’s costs payable at year’s end.
No reduction in greenhouse gases
True. Unless the program results in a massive decrease in car use, it’s unlikely to have any effect on greenhouse gas emissions.
The program will decrease spending on greenhous gas emissions and meeting Kyoto targets
Misleading. While true, the spending targeted for redirection is money set aside to buy additional carbon credits so as to allow Canada to increase greenhouse gas emissions without the increase counting against Kyoto targets. The spending in question is an accounting remedy which shifts the benefit of underindustrialization in the third world to the first world without doing anything to actually reduce emissions.

Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with the policy, but it isn’t a solution to either environmental woes or overreliance on automobiles. It’s purely a taxation carrot for a country still playing the hare to its own polluting tortoise.

The Conservatives have promised that future announcements will deal with the environmental impact of and funding for public transit. Once those are in, Canadians will be in a position to judge the relative benefits of each party’s offerings on this matter.

The World Needs More Hypocrisy0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Doubletake/Doubletalk, Gaia (Thursday December 8, 2005 at 12:54 am)

Canada remains, of course, a shining beacon to the world. Or, at least, that’s what its current foreign policy position seems to be.

Which, the frozen wonk surmises, is why Paul Martin is busy telling other countries that they need to meet Kyoto standards. Indeed, he went so far as to rely on that old standby of Canadian politics: badmouthing the United States.

The problem being, of course, that Canada lags the United States in meeting those standards, despite the fact that Canada, unlike the US, is a ratified party to the international agreement. Under the agreement, Canada is required to reduce its emissions by 20% from 1990 levels by 2008. Instead, Canadian emissions have risen by 24%.

Prime Minister Martin says that the “now is the time to listen [to global conscience]” and take action. Yes, Prime Minister, but it’s been time for fifteen years, and you’ve been on the watch for twelve.

The plan thus far, including spending of $3.7 Billion between 2000 and 2003, hasn’t reduced emissions. The problem is the usual one with taking the easy way out in politics. Money and spending are easy to announce, and the usual assumption is that the size of the budget must have something to do with the success of the program.

The problem, as usual, is obvious. A program which offers spending but provides no concrete enforcement mechanisms for achieving its goals is worse than worthless — it’s a waste of money from the get-go. The NDP are proposing a goal-oriented series of Acts, but there isn’t much information to go by. The Green Party’s offerings are, surprisingly, even less detailed. The Torys, perhaps in homage to Alberta’s known opposition to the Kyoto protocol, have nothing on offer.

What to choose? NDP seems best. Goals are the only way to accomplishment, and no one else is really offering them. Whether those goals will succeed is, admittedly, an open question. The only certain thing is that the Liberals’ plan’s been costing money for 5 years without accomplishing anything, and they’re promising more of the same.

Which consists, apparently, of campaign grandstanding, by way of hypocrisy on the international stage. Small wonder the highly-regarded international publication, The Economist, rates our government poorly even as our economy forges ahead.

But hey, who cares what the world thinks of us? Or, for that matter, what we do to it?