Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

La Belle Province No More0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Vague Check, Strategic Planning, A House Divided, All Politics (Wednesday April 11, 2007 at 3:41 pm)

Liberal leader Stephane Dion commented yesterday on the recent Quebec election, suggesting that, contrary to many observations, the ADQ’s success in that province poses no threat to the Liberals’ hopes for federal seats.

Per M. Dion:

The votes for (ADQ Leader Mario) Mr. Dumont were in a large part protest votes. . .Mr. Harper [his federal opponent] cannot channel a protest vote because he is the government.”

An argument which could be disputed, to be certain. But that doesn’t undermine Dion’s point. After all, eight of the ten federal seats taken by the Conservatives in Quebec came at the expense of the Bloc Quebecois, not the Liberals. If the Tories continued to snag seats at that stunning pace, the Liberals would lose only one more to them, while possibly gaining a few (Papineau, par example?) back from the BQ.

The ADQ won 37 new seats in Quebec, of which 20 came from the provincial Liberals and 17 from the Parti Quebecois. Those are fairly even numbers, and they mean that, even if the ADQ got some votes from the Liberals as a protest, they could not have achieved their victory without overtaking the PQ — a feat the Liberals had not accomplished in those ridings. If the ADQ poses a worrisome threat, it seems to be more portentous for the separatist parties than for the Liberals.

But if the federal Liberals think they have nothing to fear, they’re wrong. The main reason why they might not recognize the threat is that it didn’t emerge with the recent election, even if the recent election showed some of its symptoms. The real threat is the Liberal Party of Canada’s increasing isolation within Quebec.

Consider this: from 1945 to 1980, in thirteen consecutive elections spanning thirty-five years, the Liberals took fewer than 47 (of 65-75) Quebec seats only twice: once in 1958, when John Diefenbaker swept the country, and again in 1962, when he faced off against an Anglophone Liberal leader, the short-termed Lester Pearson. Over that time, the Liberals took more than 60 seats six times and more than fifty-five nine times. They averaged roughly 53% of the vote in Quebec, hitting a low of 39.2% in 1962 when Pearson first fought Diefenbaker and a high of 68.2% in 1980, when Trudeau returned to champion constitutional repatriation.

Now consider this: from 1984 to 2006, in seven consecutive elections spanning twenty-two years, the Liberals took 36 (of 75) Quebec seats in their best showing — 2000, against Joe Clark (who never did well in Quebec), Preston Manning (who barely spoke French), and Gilles Duceppe (who was scorned for weak campaigning). In four of those campaigns, they failed to win as many as 20 seats, and broke 25 only twice. They averaged roughly 33.5% over that span, hitting a high of 44.2% in the 2000 campaign and a low of 20.7% in 2006 (the second post-sponsorship scandal campaign).

Which shows a significant dip in Liberal fortunes between 1980 and 1984. No points to those who can guess why.

But that’s not all — there’s another interesting point to consider: 21 seats in Quebec are in Montreal. In all but two of the thirteen elections before 1984, the Liberals took a majority of the seats outside of Montreal. In no election since has that happened. In 2000, the Liberals’ best showing since 1980, they managed merely 16 of the 54 seats outside of that City. In five of those seven elections, they did no better than six such seats. The Liberal Party has clearly maintained its former grip on the City of Montreal, but it has lost its strength beyond.

What the numbers show is a far more dangerous threat to the Liberals than anything posed by the ADQ. If the 1997 and 2000 election victories had as much to do with the Bloc Quebecois’s poor campaigning as it did the Liberals’ own performance, then their two positive showings had more to do with the lack of a third option than it did with any efforts of their own.

The Liberals’ best seat total in the latter elections — 36 in 2000 — was eleven seats more than their worst performance in the former — 25 in 1958; but it was achieved with virtually the same percentage of the vote (44.2% vs. 45.6%). Their worst share of the vote in the former elections — 39.2% in 1962 — was only 5% behind their 2000 peak, and better than any other performance between 1984 and 2006.

What this suggests is that the Liberals are a different party in Quebec now than they were before 1984. Before 1984, they could count on taking 50% or so of the Quebec vote and built a majority starting from the roughly 50 seats they expected there. Since then, their expectations should be for roughly 35% of the vote and far too few seats to rest easy before hearing the Ontario numbers.

Since 1984, the Liberals have had to rely on Ontario for their bedrock, and with that under serious attack since the disappearance of the Progressive Conservatives in 2004, there are no signs that this is a sustainable long-term strategy. The West of Canada still looks unwelcoming to what overtures Liberals have made; and the Maritimes hold too few seats for even dominance on the scale of 1997 to make a stand there.

Which means that the Liberals are faced with a serious problem in Quebec — they have lost their long-term stronghold without finding an alternative. If they cannot break out of Montreal in the face of what now seems a second viable alternative to the separatists, they will have to find a new and unfamiliar way to build majorities. And that strange future brings a promise of minority status at best and certain weakness for some time to come.

Effective Opposition 1010

Posted by JJ in Vague Check (Wednesday March 28, 2007 at 10:00 am)

Once again, the Cold Hard Wonk welcomes its master of debate strategy, the first (and only) man to bare-knuckle box an antelope, and three-time winner of the Marquess of Queensbury’s “Most Pugilistic” award, Rock Samson. Mr. Samson?

Thanks, Wonk. Fightin’ means stickin’ it to ‘em every chance you get. They open their eyes, you poke somethin’ in ‘em. They bend over to pick somethin’ up, you knock ‘em down.

That’s why I love what the Liberals are doin’ with those boxes they found. The Tories left some of their stuff behind in their old offices about a year ago. Now the Liberals are pullin’ it out and shovin’ it in their eyes. That’s just good arguin’. After all, if the Tories really knew what they were doin’, they’d never leave things just lyin’ around in their offices.

I’ve gotta tell you, Wonk: I’m lookin’ forward to their next move. Probably some DNA tests on gum they found stuck to the Minister of the Environment’s old chair. Now that’s effective opposition.

If You’re Like Us, We’re Against You0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Vague Check (Thursday March 22, 2007 at 2:16 pm)

Some folks who hunger for the good old days of Parliamentary debate remember what it is supposed to be: debate. After years of poorly-scripted and single-minded nonsense from Reform, and bland denials from government, they yearn for the days of that legendary exchange:

Member: In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, if he believes what he just said, the Minister must have half a brain.

Speaker: I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to retract that statement, honourable member.

Member: I apologise, Mr. Speaker. The Minister doesn’t have half a brain.

One of the chief characteristics of debate, such as that of Question Period, is the ability to craft a clever, biting, and witty retort to an opponent’s statements. Throw yesterday’s exchange between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition into that category:

Hon. Stéphane Dion (Leader of the Opposition, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister has to see that his minister was negligent and incompetent with respect to a very serious issue for a country like Canada: the protection of the human lives we are responsible for.
The Prime Minister cannot keep his Minister of National Defence, not unless the Prime Minister is telling us that it is not important for Canada to protect the human lives we are responsible for.

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the Minister of National Defence has provided a clear explanation to the House of Commons. As the member knows, this government was at the time operating under an agreement signed by the previous government. We have since entered into a new arrangement with the Independent Afghan Human Rights Commission.

I can understand the passion that the Leader of the Opposition and members of his party feel for Taliban prisoners. I just wish occasionally they would show the same passion for Canadian soldiers.

It’s that last part that has Liberals up in arms. How dare the Prime Minister score points by taking a well-crafted shot at the opposition! That’s not what debate is about!

But the opposition claims that it’s wrong to say something unpleasant about them for political gain. That’s why they’ve taken the opportunity to respond in kind:

“It’s indecent,” Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe said.

“That’s the same logic as Bush: `You’re with me or against me. If you’re against me, you’re with the enemy. If you’re with the enemy, you support the Taliban’. . .

“But what makes democracy great is that you treat your enemy like a human being – which is something dictatorships do not do.”

Why is it okay to suggest that the Prime Minister is a dictator? Because it’s being done OUTSIDE of debate. And there’s ample precedent for that. Consider the number of times the Liberals have done it to the Conservatives:

  • During the 2004 campaign.
  • At the outset of the 2004 campaign, trading barbs with the Conservatives.
  • In Winnipeg during the 2006 campaign.
  • With a series of ads which:
    • Attack Harper’s comments to an American think-tank in Montreal when he called the U.S. a light and inspiration to Canadians and the world;
    • Claim Harper will either have to raise taxes or run a deficit to pay for his campaign promises;
    • Claim Harper and Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe have a close relationship that will not benefit national unity;
    • Claim that Harper once said Liberal ridings in the west of Canada are either dominated by recent Asian immigrants or recent migrants from eastern Canada;
    • Report comments Harper made to an American audience, advising them not to feel bad for Canada’s unemployed, who receive “generous social assistance and unemployment assistance,” and that Canada is content to become a second-tier social country;
    • Quote a U.S. newspaper editorial that described Harper as the most pro-U.S. leader in the western world.
  • During the 2006 debate, suggesting that Harper was allied with the United States, while simultaneously claiming not to be doing that very thing.
  • Claiming, in the dying days of the 2006 campaign, that Harper had a secret plan to stack the Supreme Court with dangerously conservative judges.

Which would suggest that casting your opponents in an unfavorable light, truthfully or not, is an acceptable part of politics. Doing so in Parliament requires more finesse, which is exactly what Harper’s response above contained.

Meaning? Those crying foul are hypocritical and stupid.

Why stupid? Because there aren’t any political points in crying to the public over fouls in Parliament when the public no longer considers Parliamentary debate to be pure or austere.

Which shows a common but spectacular combination of incompetencies: poor debating skills, and poor political acumen.

Starring: Someone’s Fuddleduddling Son0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Vague Check, Strategic Planning, Golden Tacks (Thursday February 22, 2007 at 10:32 pm)

The beauty of belonging to a political dynasty is that it’s not that hard to do. Legend has it that Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty was first chosen to carry the Liberal banner in Ottawa South because there would be no need to change the signs — the incumbent was his late father, Dalton McGuinty. It’s hard to consider the election of a Kennedy an accomplishment — unless he runs in Texas.

Which reveals what the dynasty’s latest champion always is: a star candidate. Their name recognition is the source of their appeal. The Frosty Wonk’s rarely been convinced of the value of a star candidate, but that’s mostly because they tend to run in safe seats.

There had earlier been some discussion of late Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s son, Justin Trudeau, running in the old homebase of Outremont. Fawning over the scion had been in high gear since his reconnection with his father’s old party, leading to guest-star appearances across the province.

And with good cause. Trudeau brings good looks, youth, and eloquence to his legacy. And just as his father’s charisma showed, those three, in stark contrast to more staid politicians, is a winning strategy for elections. But a popular package does nothing to fill the void in his primary asset: mere heredity provides neither political skills nor effective leadership. Indeed, these problems have been noted:

Last week, for instance, Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno surveyed some online comments about Mr. Trudeau and concluded, among other things, that he seems “unfocused and superficial, a dilettante trading on the family name.”

Trudeau has acknowledged that he needs to add something to his natural boons:

Look, for some reason, I was given an undue amount of power and influence that I certainly didn’t ask for and didn’t earn.’ So then you say, ‘Well then I have to try and be worthy of it.’

And he suggested a point of reference for worthiness, stating last July that:

. . .before he enters politics, there are a few things that need to happen. First, he feels like his opinions and beliefs need to get stronger and “anchored”. He knows that some people will like him because of his name and some people will hate him. By having strong beliefs on issues, his opinions will succeed or fail on their own merit, not because of his father. He doesn’t want to be used. He wants to be his own person. He also said that he realizes that there is a great responsibility that comes with being a Trudeau. He realizes it and will not enter politics until he feels that he can be judged and tested on his own merits, not based on nostalgia, or when he feels that he couldn’t possibly do any worse than the politicians that are in power.

But now that his candidacy has been announced (if not confirmed), does that mean that he has succeeded in strengthening and anchoring his beliefs in a mere seven months? Or does it mean that he’s using the escape clause, and going ahead because he thinks he can do at least as well as those around now? The latter interpretation does little to deny the charges of dilletantism or inexperience.

Some may hope that the struggle of an election will provide Trudeau with the experience he still lacks. After all, it’s a “contested” riding, currently occupied by the Bloc Quebecois.

Sadly, what lurks beneath the surface is a very different matter. Battles for the nomination in a riding consist of signing up more members than your opponents — a process which, however much a part of politics, has as much in common with winning elections as collecting coins does with effective customer billing. And the real campaign, once Trudeau (inevitably) wins the Liberal nomination, isn’t likely to be much more help.

In the last election, the BQ took the seat from besieged cabinet minister Pierre Pettigrew by 990 votes — a small margin considering that in 2004 and 2006, both elections under Paul Martin and post-sponsorship scandal, the Liberal vote in the riding was more than 6,000 votes below Pettigrew’s totals in 2000 and 1997 in the riding from which Papineau was carved out. On the whole, Papineau and its predecessor ridings had been solidly Liberal since 1957, including a margin of 701 votes in the Tory sweep of 1984.

Considering that 2004 and 2006 were nadirs for the Liberals in Quebec, and given their resurgent poll numbers in that province, the likelihood that Papineau will return to the Liberal fold is high, regardless of the candidate selected. In those circumstances, a candidate with star appeal is a waste of resources. But of course, in those circumstances, a candidate with star appeal is likely to attribute success to his presence, however unnecessary it might have been. Prove that it wasn’t.

Which raises the question of star candidate strategy again: why waste them in ridings which can be won without them?

But it raises additional questions for young M. Trudeau. If he’s convinced that he’s ready to take on politics, why not take on a riding where, in combination with hard work, his natural gifts can bring an uncertain seat into the Liberal column? That would be an accomplishment. Papineau will not be an accomplishment. It will merely be the latest playground for a boy who was given everything, bringing him one step closer to following in his father’s footsteps without making him any more qualified to rank among the nation’s leaders.

John Q. Public III0

Posted by JJ in Vague Check, Hats Off, Gentlemen (Tuesday February 20, 2007 at 6:36 pm)

It’s not every day that private citizens (oxymoronic, true) are asked to comment on their political impact. On any given evening, Ministers and Parliamentarians collectively attend scores of public events, hoping to glean a few added grains of support from their association with the cause.

What is far more interesting about this incident isn’t the celebrity of the private citizen involved. It’s that the citizen is in the same position as the politician.

William Henry Gates III (called “Bill” most of the time) was, by 1998, the “world’s richest man“, but had a bit of an image problem. Resentment of wealth played a factor, certainly, but to suggest that that was the cause would ignore much. As the frontman for Microsoft, the company’s business tactics of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt, or, in clearer terms, misdirection, were soon being attached to him personally in popular culture (caution: may contain other languages).

A problem faced by many celebrities, to be sure. But then, people like O.J. Simpson and Britney Spears sell themselves, not products, so there’s a far more compelling reason for them to be concerned about their images. Hatred of Microsoft, while widespread, hasn’t affected their bottom line, so it’s hard to justify a makeover for Chairman Gates by the need to preserve the company’s reputation.

Mr. Gates’s makeover began in earnest with the 2000 founding of his eponymous charity. Why name a charity after yourself? Why not? Consider the Rockefeller foundations, both named for their wealthy benefactors (though neither carries their full names and those of their wives). But both of those groups have far lower profiles, and their websites aren’t strewn with images of their namesakes.

No, the primay objective of Mr. Gates’ close collaboration with his charity is to improve his reputation with the public by associating himself with better causes than those which built that reputation. Which is the irony in the media’s questioning:

Mr. Gates was asked Tuesday if he was worried that the timing of today’s press conference, arriving as it did in the middle of a flurry of election speculation, left him playing both political and charitable roles.

And the double-edged truth behind his response:

I am glad to hear that putting research money into AIDS makes people politically more popular.

Shoulder-to-shoulder, the two men on the podium become hard to tell apart.

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.

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.

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?

Something for the Ladies?0

Posted by JJ in Vague Check, Golden Tacks (Wednesday November 29, 2006 at 7:15 pm)

The unfortunate thing about contentious issues in Canadian society is that the more important the issue is, the less likely it is that reasoned debate will prevail. The nation debate is but one example. A more obviously mishandled one is the Women’s Program.

This program is a nationwide distribution system for grant money designed to focus on promoting women’s equality through social development programs. It was created in response to suggestions by the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in 1973.

And now, the Conservative government has moved to close twelve of its regional offices as part of its plan to cut $5 Million from Status of Women Canada.

Naturally, this has produced a vocal outcry from the opposition:

Canadian women are still only earning 71 cents to every dollar earned by their male counterparts, more and more women are living in poverty, and we are still waiting for the government to create child-care spaces. With the closure of these regional offices, the government is taking away one of the very few remaining resources for women.

Which are all serious problems. What’s not certain is what they have to do with the closures.

And there’s no excuse for that. After all, the current government’s proposals for restructuring the agency can easily be compared with the previous government’s review of the agency just last year.

Key points from that report:

  • Overall, stakeholders perceive the design and delivery of the WP to have several important strengths. These include . . .its social development approach. . .its decentralized structure and presence in communities. . .
  • . . .the Program’s decentralized delivery model can also contribute to increasing the costs associated with providing this form of assistance [social development funding]. . .
  • . . .program staff and managers believe that the WP suffers from poor internal communications and information sharing among the regions and the national office.
  • Staff from several regions stressed the importance of in-person contact with organizations in their own communities and said that they lack the personnel, as well as the travel budget, to serve all communities and groups within their region equally

In summary, then, a few key points emerge:

  • Women’s groups value the program’s local representation as well as local officers’ help
  • Local offices are costly and aren’t well integrated with the national office, resulting in poor coordination and redundancies

Which means what for the government’s proposal?

Whether they’re doing it well, they are addressing legitimate concerns about the expense and inefficiency of running so many offices. But the fact that the officers are going to be relocated to Heritage Canada offices raises further questions:

  • Will these officers remain exclusively officers of the Women’s Program, or will they be officers shared between the two agencies?
  • Will they have better resources and communication with the national headquarters at Heritage Canada offices?

In a best case scenario, the officers are simply relocated to larger regional offices and Heritage Canada facilities in the same communities and others begin to provide more local service. In that case, more communities will have a local presence, though the staff in each community won’t have as much time to work locally. On the other hand, more work will be done to coordinate efforts on a larger regional base. What that means is broader, if not better, community presence, the same amount of work in the agency and better agency performance.

In a worst case scenario, the officers will be shared between Heritage Canada and the Women’s Program. In that case, the resources for women’s groups will be reduced, and there’s no guarantee that these dual-use officers will have the time to conduct the kind of effective national communication which the report recommended. That would be a serious problem.

Of course, it’s not clear which of the two it will be. Not from the government and not from the liberals. From one, we get uninformative rhetoric, and from the other, well, more uninformative rhetoric. The NDP, if you’re wondering, have gone further still, suggesting that the closures will result in staff cuts.

What no one is doing is asking what point on the range between the best and worst-case scenarios above the proposal falls. Partly, perhaps, this is because it’s not possible to be certain before the changes are implemented; but the simple explanation is clear: because while every one of them truly cares about women’s support, not one of them truly cares about supporting women.

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?

Only the Beginning0

Posted by JJ in Vague Check, The Elephant (Thursday November 9, 2006 at 10:43 pm)

Once the euphoria dies down, American Democrats will have some serious thinking to do. Joe Lieberman isn’t why, but his story does hint at it.

The Connecticut Senator lost a bitter primary election against Ned Lamont, who entered the race in anger over Lieberman’s support for the Iraq War. Denied the party standard, Lieberman ran his own campaign. The Democrats weren’t pleased by the prospect:

At this point Lieberman cannot expect to just keep his seniority,” said [an] aide. “He can’t run against a Democrat and expect to waltz back to the caucus with the same seniority as before. It would give the view that the Senate is a country club rather than representative of a political party and political movement.

Well, ahoy-hoy, gentlemen — the corker’s still here!

The victory comes from a combination of name recognition, filched Republican support, and some Democratic hangers-on. But, most importantly, it demonstrates that the anti-war coalition isn’t enough to put things over the top by itself. Support for the war, it seems, isn’t an insurmountable obstacle.

Consider further: four of the Democrats’ new seats came with narrow margins, two with extremely narrow margins. That even with a series of unaccountable scandals and gaffes. Thirteen of the twenty-eight new Representatives won by fewer than ten thousand votes.

When the Republicans took over Congress in 1994, they did so with a concise description of their objectives, an approach neatly lifted for the Canadian Conservatives’ 2006 election run. That victory provided them with a considerable run of the place.

The Democrats agenda is unfocused by contrast, particularly because it identifies issues without specifying any particulars apart, possibly, from removing bars to stem cell research. That might be a critical issue for Michael J. Fox, but it’s not for voters, who placed the Iraq conflict, terrorism, and ethics at the top of the list.

No one has a monopoly on scandal. Given time, the cleanest closets offer skeletons. The real problem is that little of their agenda offers anything of substance on the top issues. In that respect, the election, as characterised, stands largely as a referendum on the Iraqi conflict.

But if voters weren’t responding to the content of the Democrats’ position, it’s hard to see how they’ll keep their gains without making them respond. That demands a serious effort to grasp public attention with responses to the issues; and, just as crucially, a solid plan to both pace their responses and deny the President any bragging rights.

Seeing how they do that will be far more interesting than anything this election had to offer. That’s why it’s not a time to expel sighs of relief. It’s a moment to bate breath in anticipation.

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: http://www.forces.gc.ca/site/newsroo…_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.

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.

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.

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?

Better Living Through Long Division0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bored over Lord0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*With thanks and acknowledgement to John Byrom

Watch Out, Falling Pie!0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Little Means a Lot0

Posted by JJ in Vague Check, Strategic Planning, Golden Tacks (Thursday August 24, 2006 at 11:38 am)

A recent spate of anti-Ignatieff messages targeted at members has the Liberal Leadership candidate’s team somewhat upset. Sure, it’s nothing new, Ignatieff’s opposition has been attacking him since the Winnepeg debate in June. But there’s something new in that response, particularly given Ignatieff’s attempts to avoid fighting with the other candidates, and it’s in a senior strategist’s response:

“. . . there are people in the Liberal Party and, make no mistake this is coming from inside the Liberal Party, who are not interested in renewal of the party,” Mr. Davey said. “. . . the fact that this kind of stuff goes on, that we have people who haven’t got the courage to put their name on something and hide behind anonymity and yet have access to memberships lists, and new memberships lists, these are the membership lists that have come out in the last 30 days, so this is coming from inside the Liberal Party.

The courage issue sure is interesting, but it’s that part at the beginning that’s curious. Is an Ignatieff strategist really suggesting that those campaigning against him are against the renewal of the party? It’s a throwaway remark, you say? Strange. . .those are usually the most telling. What it shows is a remarkable kind of arrogance in Ignatieff’s team — and one that fits in with other aspects of their campaign.

Let’s not be mistaken, Michael Ignatieff has a number of good qualities, chief among which, as one blogger pointed out long ago, is the fact that his positions seem grounded in something other than political expedience.

But, of course, one might demand at least a little bit of expedience from a would-be leader.

Instead, there seems to be an arrogant detachment. Consider:

Early remarks about esoteric management principles in response to a request for comments on a convention
Proper Response: Anything about the people, rather than about how you go about controlling them. Oh, and literary references should be limited either to current bestsellers (Bible excluded) or classics available in comic-book form
Avoiding taking shots at competing candidates while they attack him
Proper Response: If you’re really that confident as a frontrunner, you don’t go negative, true. But you do go clever. Trudeau was supremely confident on many occasions, which never stopped him from getting in a good jab when things got rough. Getting in there and brawling doesn’t just make you look less like the condescending Dean from a frathouse comedy, it shows that you can attack your real political opponents without looking like a whining baby; and that’s important, too.
Fundamentally stupid remarks on the conflict in Lebanon
Proper Response: If the Chilly Wonk knew that, he’d be over there right now working on it. But this much is for sure: it’s not an off-the-cuff demonstration of professional appreciation of military necessity coupled with personal indifference to human life.

In the light of which, it’s conceivable that the man and his team consider themselves the renewal of the party. But surely that’s nonsense. Besides which, why the renewal of the party would be stopped by negative internal attacks is hard to gauge — there’s unlikely ever to be a leadership race without such things; and if their complaint is with the use of membership lists, they’d do well to remember that more restrictive control of membership lists is not the best strategy for strengthening parties.

But above all, why respond to the same kind of negative campaigning you’ve faced all along with a farcically broad, silly, and arrogant smear of your opponents?

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