December 31, 2005
I'm back in Khao Lak after spending four wonderful days aboard the MV Andaman. The diving trip was great. There were 16 of us on board, plus 5 dive masters (essentially tour guides for diving) and a crew of 5. The food was excellent - a western-style breakfast and curry for lunch and dinner. Each day was basically the same. We'd wake up at 6:30 and have a first dive before breakfast. After breakfast we'd go visit a beach or relax on the boat's sundeck for a bit. Then, the second dive, followed by lunch and more relaxation or another beach. A third dive would then be followed by snacks on the boat. Then, on two of the days, we also had a night dive before dinner.
Diving at night is very, very cool. Floating in the dark really gives a feeling of weightlessness. You are surrounded by darkness except where you shine your light and you see the other dives as points of light floating in space. Lots of fun.
The diving was spectacular, with visibility of 20 metres. On every dive we were surrounded by thousands of extremely colourful tropical fish. We visited both the Surin and Similan islands, as well as a couple of sites in between (Richelieu Rock, Koh Bon and Koh Tachai). These two island groups are national parks containing uninhabited islands covered in jungle and containing some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. A while back I think I said that Ko Phi Phi was the most beautiful place I'd ever been. Well, there's a place called Sail Rock on the Similan Islands that's even more beautiful.
All in all, a wonderful few days. I'm now staying in Kaoh Lak for a couple of days. This is the beach town closest to the islands and is, consequently, full of divers. It was hit very hard by the Tsunamai, with essentially everything along the beach destroyed. Everything along the beach now is either brand new, under construction, or ruined. A few days ago I walked past the shell of a three story hotel. All that is left are the concrete walls. The doors and windows were ripped out, frames and all, and roof tiles are missing. It is still awaiting reconstruction.
I've met a few people who were here last year. It is frightening to hear their stories, like that of one person who decided at the last minute to go on a diving trip. She was therefore out on the boat in open water when the Tsunamai hit, far enough out that the wave wasn't at the surface yet. When she returned, the resort she was staying at had dissapeared. Truly sobering stuff.
December 24, 2005
Apologies for the lack of travel blogging. I've had a very relaxed week, travelling between some of the nicest islands in Thailand, or the world for that matter.
After leaving Koh Tao I crossed over from the east coast to the west coast of Thailand. This isn't as hard as it sounds, as southern Thailand is long and very narrow - only a couple hundred Kilometres. I then spend a week on Koh Phi Phi. This island is the most beautiful place I've ever been. The main island consists of two tree-covered hills, ringed with cliffs. These are joined in the middle by a low, sandy area with beaches along both sides. One beach is lined by shops and restaurants, but the other one is wide open and extremely beutiful, running along the back of a quiet bay, with tall cliffs at either end. I spend five days diving and going to the beach.
The one bad thing about Koh Phi Phi is that it is very developed. You can easily forget that you are in Thailand and think that you are in Europe somewhere. So, after a few days, I wanted to go somewhere quieter. I therefore took an hour long ferry to Ko Lanta. This is a much quieter island. It is quite large and ringed by beach, so everything is quite spread out. My resort has a little restaurant and bar just behind the beach. This really consists of just a few tables and chairs right behind the beach. It is a lovely quiet spot. Sitting here you feel that you are all alone. In a way, though, you are. Despite being Christmas, and peak season, it is very quiet here. My resort is over half empty. I walked down the beach today and the other resorts also seem quiet. I'm not sure if travel here is still down because of the Tsunamai, but that's the only explanation I can think of. So, if you're thinking of travelling to Thailand but are holding off because you aren't sure if things have recovered - stop waiting! Everything is rebuilt, but people are still suffering because tourism is down.
I'll be here for three days and then I'm heading out on a four day diving trip on the MV Andaman. I'm heading out on a boat to the Similan Islands, apparently the best diving in Thailand. We'll dive during the day, and sleep on the boat at night. Should be a lot of fun.
December 21, 2005
Why I Don't Run Hockey Canada
Because if I did I wouldn't be able to keep myself from pointing out that Kris Draper was born in 1971, is 5'11"/190, and has one goal and six assists this season, while Jason Spezza was born in 1983, is 6'2"/206, and has thirteen goals and thirty-four assists this season.
Is it too soon to start calling him "Kim?"
With the current numbers that they are polling in Quebec, the Liberals would be reduced to seven seats and this number would not include Mr. Martin's own seat... Right now, there's a risk that the PM might lose his own seat.Even Ernies Eves held is own seat. I'm only saying...
December 20, 2005
Ha'aretz reports that a majority of American Jews oppose the war in Iraq.
The continued adherence of the American Jewish community (if there is such a thing) to liberal political shibboleths notwithstanding the increasingly - shall we say - troubling nature of American 'progressive' liberalism is a frustrating phenomenon. But that's a post for another time; right now I simply want to make two points:
- I would make a healthy wager that the 17% of identified Republicans among poll respondents are disproportionately to be found among the 10% of identified Orthodox Jews; and
- In a decade, identified Orthodox Jews will make up far, far more than 10% of the American Jewish population.
December 19, 2005
Leaving Koh Tao
I haven't posted any trip updates for a while, mostly because there really hasn't been much to say. I spent a wonderful 10 days on Koh Tao. Koh Tao was great - its a little island that is all about diving. Its covered in little bungalows and dive schools. I stayed in a little resort associated with the dive shop I dove with. We all stayed in little wooden bungalows. A typical day consisted of diving, then sitting on the beach or on the front porch of the bungalow reading in the afternoon. That would be followed by dinner somewhere and perhaps some drinks. We got around the island on little scooters that we rented. All in all, a pretty idylic place.
I also went across to Koh Phangan for the infamous full moon party. Unfortunately, this month's party was officially cancelled due to the tragic deaths of two tourists the day before. I ended up there anyway, because news of the canceallation didn't really get out. It was still a fun night. Instead of 10,000 people there were probably around 2,000, and it was a rather mellow night rather than a rave, but this was actually probably more my scene anyway.
After returning to Koh Tao, I decided that it was time to leave. I could hang out there for a long time, as most of the of the people I met there were doing, but there were other places I wanted to visit. I left yesterday morning, taking the crazy roller coaster of a ferry across choppy seas to Chumpon, the train two hours south to Surat Thani, and then a minibus two hours west to Krabi. Thailand at that point is only a couple hundred kilometres across, so this took me from east coast to west coast. This morning, I took another ferry on much less choppy seas to Ko Phi Phi. I'll describe this island in a future post, so for now I'll just say that my expectations were pretty high, but this place still exceeded them. Its definitely the most beautiful place I've ever been.
December 18, 2005
That's Just Not True
Okay, maybe they do law differently in Canada, but when CTV reports on Paul Martin's attack on Stephen Harper with the assertion
Critics have said [that] same-sex marriage is upheld by the charter.I have to ask: isn't this just, well, not true? I've read the Supreme Court's advisory opinion, and as far as I can tell it specifically declines to answer that question. As I've subsequently noted, the assertion that same sex marriage is 'protected by the charter' - such that the Civil Marriage Act could not be amended - depends on the assumption that the Supreme Court will agree with the provincial high courts. But they haven't agreed yet. Now here in the state's there has been, for two hundred years, a notion that the Supreme Court gets to say what the law is. Either Canada doesn't have such a principle - and so the high court of British Columbia can bind the national legislature on the meaning of the Constitution - or these 'critics' are, how you say, wrong.
Would somebody please explain to me a) whether my analysis is faulty, and b) why the Tory war room doesn't have some constitutional lawyer pointing out this very, very, very rudimentary legal state of affairs?
December 15, 2005
Exams continue. In the meantime, read this by Paul Wells. It's hilarious and frustrating at once. Aside from all the corruption, and aside from any ideological differences one might have, Wells presents a very, very good reason to vote against Paul Martin on January 23: the man is a light-weight. A feather-weight, even. Read the piece.
And then consider that if Martin is a light-weight, it shouldn't take very much to knock him down. And then go check SES.
December 14, 2005
Sorry, everyone. Exams, you know how it is. But I'll be back in action - and in Canada - late next week, just in time to cover the Christmas break in the campaign. But then I'll still be in action - and Canada - after New Year's, when we're assured the party leaders will actually begin to through actual feces at one another, just like an A&M rally, so check in then. Or sooner - you never know what will pop up here on Maderblog.
In the meantime, regardless of your politics, you have no excuse for not reading Scott Feschuk daily. I say that despite the fact that he may do more to humanize Paul Martin than any other form of publicity. Fact is, the guy's hilarious. Go. Read. Enjoy. All politics should be that amusing.
December 12, 2005
Some Thoughts on Polls and Strategy (Continued)
Continued from below...
So is Harper's strategy of staying positive and focussing on rolling out the platform a mistake? Not necessarily. As has been commented on extensively, this is a very long campaign and most people aren't really paying attention now. Harper can get his whole platform out now, then go on the attack for the last couple weeks of the campaign when people are actually paying attention. Attacking later has two big advantages. First, if he tried to attack for the whole campaign, it would get old long before election day. Holding off till the last couple weeks means that he will get media attention and the attacks will be fresh in people's minds when they vote. Second, a campaign that was overwhelmingly negative would leave Harper open to critiscism that he had no plans of his own and that he was, well, too negative. By laying out an extensive, populist platform now, Harper frees himself to attack later while having a platform to fall back on if questioned.
So if this is the strategy, what might we expect Harper to do? Continue to launch the tory platform until early in the New Year, and then go on the attack. One option would be to highligh one Liberal scandal each day, in the way that the tories are now highlighting one policy plank each day.
So is this what Harper will do? Who knows. I certainly don't. I'm not even in the country at the moment, but am watching this from Thailand. Its a possibility, though, and one that I'd think might just be succesful.
Yes, I know I'm supposed to be travel blogging. I just couldn't resist a big of political blogging. I'm still on Koh Tao, diving every day, so nothing much new to report from the trip.
Some Thoughts on Polls and Strategy
The polls have been a bit confusing so far in the campaign. It was widely agreed that the tories had a better week one, but they slid in the polls. Then week two seemed a bit more even, but the tories have started to bounce back. What is going on? What of the tory strategy of staying positive and concentrating on policy? Is it a mistake?
Here's one possible explanation. It seems that, in general, Canadians are relatively happy with Liberal government or, at least, not unhappy enough to want a change. Most polls in the last few years, with a few notable exceptions, have shown healthy Liberal leads.
The exception? The only times that the Liberals don't have a big lead is when a scandal is in the news. Their big lead fell apart when Adscam first broke and, since then, the only time that the tories have caught up or even led has been when some scandal is in the news. This makes some sense, corresponding to the old notion that people throw out governments, rather than voting in oppositions.
If this is the case, then the tightening of the polls in the last few weeks may have resulted from the Goodale scandal receiving some coverage, more than it did from Harper's performance. The idea that a Liberal minister or his staff would feed information to their friends that allowed them to profit is now entirely believeable to most Canadians. I would guess that this explains the last few days' polls.
Thank You, Scott Reid
Scott Reid has handed this election to Stephen Harper, if Harper is ready to go on the attack and make use of it.
Think I'm over-reacting to Reid's comments, or that they're no big deal now that Reid has apologized? I disagree. Reid laid out the philosophical difference between the parties in one short, memorable phrase. The Conservatives are the party that believes that you can be trusted with your own hard-earned money and that you actually care about your own kids. The Liberals are the party that believes that you can't be trusted with your own money and that the state has to raise your kids because you're too iresponsible.
It also gives the tories a great ballot question. By voting Liberal, you're agreeing that you should not be trusted with your own money and that if you were given some of it back, you'd blow it on beer rather than spending it to give your kids a future. Do you really want to say that?
Harper should be using this quote in every speech he gives, for the rest of the campaign. Since getting his message out through speeches depends on what the media covers, he should particularly use this line during the debates. Its the best way to explain the difference between the parties. Moreover, it feeds perfectly into the theme of the Liberals being arrogant and drunk on power and of it being time for a change.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether Harper will seize this and run with it. (More on possible strategy in my next post...)
December 09, 2005
I've arrived on Koh Tao, a wonderful little island off the east coast of southern Thailand. I arrived here this morning after an overnight train from Bangkok and a 1.5 hour ferry ride. The train was fine - comparable to sleeper trains in Europe. The ferry was horrible, due to bad weather. The sea was quite rough, so we were plowing through some pretty serious waves. The other, slower ferries, had all been cancelled for the day, but the faster boat can get through rougher weather. I didn't throw up, but it was a close run thing.
The travel was worth it, though, because Koh Tao is great. Its a little island that is all about diving. Everythign here revolves around diving. There are tons of dive shops, and each one seems to also have its own accomodation. I registered with Master Divers, whcih was recommended by someone I met on the train who has been diving witht hem. I'm staying in one of their little wooden bungalows 100 metres or so back from the beach. It has a couple single beds, a bathroom, and a great front porch with comfy chairs. There are a few cars on the island, but mostly people walk or take the small motorcycles (more like scooters) that are common across this part of the world. I slept most of the afternoon, and am booked to dive tommorow morning. Should be fun.
December 08, 2005
Canada Held Hostage - Day Ten
What a difference a week makes. During the first week of the campaign, Conservative leader Stephen Harper dominated headlines with a series of big ticket policy announcements. While Harper has continued the practice of making a daily announcement, the second week has seen Liberal leader Paul Martin win the headlines by upping the ante with a series of big-ticket proposals himself. Today Martin announced a Liberal promise to ban handguns as the cornerstone of their tough-on-crime policy. I'd assumed that the Martin proposal would be well-received by the press - given Canada's quite literally gun-shy nature - but stories like this one, this one and this one suggest that the reception will be anything but friendly. Having been infected by the 'issues' bug it seems that many in the mainstream media are intent on actually evaulating the leaders' policy proposals, and as a policy proposal Martin's hand gun ban is lacking. Whether voters respond as the media has responded is, of course, another question.
Conservative leader Stephen Harper was in North Bay to announce various vocationally-related tax relief measures, and then flew to Montreal to rally his Quebec campaign. Harper's speech - almost entirely in French - was said to be "easily his best speech yet of this still-young campaign."
Today's SES daily tracking poll appeared to show pretty bad news for the Conservatives, who continue to lose ground to the Liberals and now trail by about ten points. Given the perceived strength of the Tory campaign these bad numbers some wondering whether voters simply aren't paying close attention yet, and this poll suggests that it may in fact be the case.
And finally, in the ongoing story-behind-the-campaign, a representative of a lobby group who admitted on Wednesday to having been tipped off about the change in income-trust regulation has now changed his story, saying that the organization never received any advance information. To illustrate the position this poor guy has been put in, I give you this:
At first, Gleberzon said no one from the finance minister's office had contacted him about the interview.I don't know what that's called in the 'Fifty-Plus' community, but to this twenty-three year old it's called getting caught out in a lie.
When told that the finance ministry's communications director, John Embury, had already admitted to calling Gleberzon Wednesday night, he explained:
"I did speak to him …. I shouldn't have said that I didn't, but I did," Gleberzon told Tomlinson.
Okay, fine, one more hilarious tidbit from the story:
In a phone call later, Embury told CTV's Robert Fife that Gleberzon was old and confused.I mean, I'm no director of communications for the Canadian Ministry of Finance, but when you're trying to get someone to back down from comments implicating your boss in some pretty serious and quite possibly criminal activity, I'd think it would be best not to insult the guy. (Incidentally, a quick Lexis search indicates that Embury is not a finance ministry communications guy as much as he's Ralph Goodale's communications guy. Embury was with Goodale at Natural Resources as early as 1997, and was with him at Public Works as well.)
"Well that's a nice ageist excuse," Gleberzon said when told of the comment Thursday. "I'm not that old, and I don't think I'm getting confused."
Embury told CTV he has since apologized to Gleberzon for that comment.
CARP Changes Tune
At no time was CARP given an indication by the Minister’s office of when the announcement would be made or what it would say.CTV News report, December 7:
"The day they made the announcement they phoned us and said something is going to be said," the associate executive director of Canada's Association for the Fifty Plus, William Gleberzon, told CTV News.CARP says that it had no indication of 1) when an announcement would be made or 2) what the announcement would be about. CARP's associate executive director says that the organization 1) was told that an announcement would be made that day and 2) understood the 'clear' 'underlying message' that the change would be to something CARP cared about. CARP itself, in its press release, acknowledges that it had been lobbying PMO about income trusts for a number of months, so Gleberzon's statment that CARP assumed 'it would probably be something we'd be happy with' can surely be taken to mean that the organization presumed - as PMO would expect them to - that the change would be to income trusts.
Gleberzon said the call came from a senior policy advisor in the finance minister's office.
When asked what exactly he was told, Gleberzon indicated the specifics were vague, but the underlying message was clear.
"They said something was going to be announced later in the day. And we assumed that if they told us that ... it would probably be something we'd be happy with."
If that sounds complicated, let me simplify: CARP has come 180 degrees in only one day. But I'm sure that Liberal pressure on CARP had absolutely nothing to do with this self-contradiction.
Some Good Poll News for the Tories?
Paul Wells challenges us to find some good spin on the SES numbers, and I'm not up to that. But these Strategic Counsel numbers may give Tories some heart. The poll finds the Liberals widening their gap over the Tories in the 'Lower Mainland' region - which I assume is the environs of Vancouver - and in downtown Toronto; by contrast the Tories are making solid ground on the Grits in 'southwestern' Ontario.
Here's the thing: the two areas in which the Liberals are pulling away are two areas where the Tories didn't really have a chance of picking up seats. The Tories will win downtown Toronto as soon as they sweep all the seats in Parliament; ditto downtown Vancouver. In a sense, then, it's no big deal that they're bleeding support there - it just means that they'll lose those ridings by more than they otherwisw would. But southwestern Ontario is in play, and if Tory numbers are picking up there, those numbers may actually result in seat-shifts.
Of course you always want to be competitive everywhere; what we may be seeing, though, is traditionally non-Tory ridings becoming even more anti-Tory, while ridings at play swing blue.
Hey, it's spin, as I said. But it's something.
Scott Feschuk's campaign blog is hilarious, and he routinely makes me laugh out loud. Today, though, he made me laugh out loud at something I don't think he meant to be funny. Regarding Martin's pledge to ban handguns, Feschuk writes:
A lot of our policy folks have worked hard on this one.Hah. I mean, you can imagine how difficult the decision-making process was:
Liberal Policy Guy #1: Hey, listen - I've been thinking. I think we should - well, I think we should ban handguns.Okay, okay, in fairness the announcement has lots of policy ins and outs and complications, and I'm sure some very nice and very smart people put a lot of hours into figuring out just how the new program would grow the size of the regulatory state to the detriment of individual liberty. And, sure, it's quite possible that the Liberals will get some bad press, and risk losing some rural votes.
Liberal Policy Guy #2: Ban handguns! Gee, I dunno. I mean, what's in it for the party? All we'll get is a whole bunch of really good press, and the ability to frame any Conservative opposition as pro-crime, pro-death and pro-American. It just doesn't seem like a political winner to me.
Liberal Policy Guy #1: This isn't about politics! It's about principle. Look, Canada has had strict gun control for the better part of a century, and currently you can only own a handgun - duly registered - as a showpiece or for sport shooting. Handgun owners have to be personally licensed and have to attend mandatory gun safety lessons. Of all gun-crime in Canada, the vast majority is committed by unlicensed individuals with unlicensed weapons. Obviously, the right thing to do is to ban handguns altogether.
Liberal Policy Guy #2: Wow. You're right. We should ban handguns - no matter how much praise we get.
I guess that Feschuk character just tickles my funny-bone, is all.
The Ottawa Citizen's lead editorial today blasts the 'ethical swamps' attending partisan nominations, and cites as the prime example the controversy surrounding the alleged deal to reimburse ousted Ottawa-South Tory candidate Allan Riddell for his costs.
I really, really, really wish someone would explain to me how this is unethical. I can understand how 'paying off' one candidate might upset the local riding committee, or, by extension, those voters in the riding who supported the ousted candidate. But to the degree that such a move does upset those people, the action is self-regulating: those upset probably won't vote for the new candidate.
But it seems to me that the list of people who have a valid grievance against such a practice is more or less limited to a) party members and (to a lesser extent) b) party-inclined voters. I don't see how it's anybody else's business how a party chooses its nominee in any particular riding. Contrary to the Citizen, the fact that the Canadian government doesn't regulate party nominations is a very good thing - parties are formed so that Canadians can group together to exert control over the machinery of government through the political process. Regulating parties down to the nomination level would turn this system on its head - making parties an expression of the state's notions of propriety and acceptable political viewpoints.
Needless to say, that would be bad.
Now, it's quite possible that I'm missing something here. If so, though, I'd really appreciate it if someone could tell me what that is.
Let's Talk About SES - Day Ten
Lib 40%(--) Con 26%(-2) NDP 18%(+1) BQ 11%(--) Gr 4%(--)
As Paul Wells says, "the SES poll is turning into extremely disappointing news for Conservatives." There's no explaining away the trend: since the beginning of the week, voters have been turning against the Tories. Consider: in Tuesday's poll, which reflected polling data from Saturday, Sunday and Monday, the Tories were at 30% - even from the day before. In yesterday's poll, reflecting data from Sunday, Monday and Tueday, they were at 28%. In today's, reflecting Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, they're at 26%. Since the beginning of the week, the public mood has shifted against the Tories.
Both the Liberals and the NDP have benefitted from the Tory slide (which suggests, at least superficially, that there are in fact swing voters, and that they're theoretically prepared to swing to the Tories from both the Liberals and the NDP - where else would those parties' new numbers be coming from, if not from the Tory slide?). The Liberals have also doubtlessly benefitted from the BQ slide in Quebec.
I noted last week that I'm not crazy about SES's regional and leadership numbers, but a few interesting things caught my eye. First, the Tories' Atlantic Canada numbers jumped substantially in yesterday's poll - the which was also the first to incorporate data subsequent to Harper's jaunt in the Maritimes yesterday. In other words, those numbers appear to reflect a Tory bounce resulting from the leader's appearance.
But then look at 'western Canada,' where the Tories dropped substantially from yesterday's poll. What does this mean? Are Albertans angry because they haven't been visited by a party leader yet? Are they growing disenchanted with a Tory platform that seems as heavy on spending as it is on tax relief? If the NDP's rise is concentrated in BC, their strongest province, are they gaining numbers at the expense of the Tories? And if so, why?
Perhaps the most interesting thing, to me, is that this campaign doesn't seem (at least from my distant and, for the moment, distracted perspective) to be about anything, and so it's difficult to determine what specific announcements or events might be motivating the opinion shifts - and what might shift them the other way. That's something the Tories will have to figure out, and soon.
(Also, notice how SES's leadership numbers show a Harper decline - and a Martin rise - in line with the fortunes of their parties. Might the fundamental factor at this point be leadership - and if so, might those terrible Tory ads be turning people off?)
Andrew Sullivan dips into history to bolster his argument against waterboarding, and in the process demonstrates his complete inability to recognize any coercive treatment without attaching the 'torture' label.
Sullivan's argument today is that because a) US forces use a type of 'waterboarding' and b) Torquemada used a type of 'waterboarding' and called it torture, then necessarily c) the US tortures - according to Torquemada.
But get this:
[In Torquemada's procedure, t]he mouth was forced open with a metal piece and a cloth placed over the mouth. Then a pitcher of water was brought, and water poured over the cloth. With each swallow, the cloth was drawn deeper into the throat, until in gagging and choking the victim nearly asphyxiated. The terror of suffocation was extreme, and the process was repeatedly endlessly, bloating the body grotesquely until the victim was ready to confess. . . .Says Sullivan:
[In the CIA's procedure, c]ellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.
The distinction, I think, is that the technique used today, as endorsed by our Christian president, does not result in water actually being drawn into the stomach and so bloating it.But that's a pretty fundamental difference. Torquemada's waterboard really did almost drown the subject, while the CIA's technique only creates the sensation of drowning while never allowing that risk to be realized. I think this goes directly to my distinction between torture and non-torture harsh treatment, and it's revealing that to Sullivan that distinction is entirely meaningless.
I've said before that I think waterboarding falls into a 'grey area' in my conceptual scheme, and I've recently developed a presumption against the use of any 'grey area' practices. Nonetheless, I think it's very important to confront the question of what actually rises to the level of torture and what doesn't. Sullivan's total disregard for the importance of direct physical coercion in practices that really do constitute torture demonstrates the complete disconnect between the two sides in this debate. Or rather, between the side that is willing to have a debate, and the side that will admit of no contrary point of view.
Canada Held Hostage - Day Nine
Liberal leader Paul Martin addressed a UN climate change summit in Montreal today, making full use of his office to both appear prime-ministerial and enunciate a Liberal environmental policy. Both the NDP and the Tories quickly hit back. At the end of the day, I don't think anybody really knew that much more about any of the parties' environmental platforms.
For his own part, Conservative leader Stephen Harper promised a 1% cut on small business taxes, calling small businesses the backbone of the Conservative Party and of Canada alike. Harper's proposal received some positive feedback from business groups, which must make the Tories wonder just how many groups they have to please before they see even a marginal increase in their popular support.
In ground-game news, the CBC reports that Quebec grits are having a hard time finding volunteers. I'm not entirely sure why any organizer would admit as much to the national media, but maybe that's why I'm a pundit rather than an organizer.
But the real news of the day is CTV's ongoing story on alleged leaks from Ralph Goodale's office regarding the recent changes to income trust regulations. Apparently a 'senior advisor' to Goodale tipped off the Canadian Association for the Fifty-Plus (CARP - I presume they were once 'retired persons') before the markets closed on the day of the announcement, and every forensic accountant worth his salt will tell you that the trading activity at least suggests a leak of insider information. If this pans out, it will rock the Liberal campaign and give the Tories an avenue to go negative without seeming too mean.
UPDATE: Almost forgot: today's SES tracking poll suggests slight but noticeable Liberal momentum; the Tories remain stalled at 30%; the NDP are recovering (very slightly) from their lows late last week, and the Bloc are falling off their commanding heights. Superficially, at least, that suggests that the Grits are making up ground in Quebec.
December 07, 2005
Back in Thailand
I returned to Thailand yesterday after a lovel few days in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Sihanoukville was absolutely lovely. Its a little town on the water with great beaches. Moreover, it is almost completely deserted. Its not uncommon to find yourself practically alone on a beautiful beach. It also has some wonderful bar / restaurants on some parts of the beach which, again, you sometimes have all to yourself. Of course I still met a few other backpackers there, and would generally hang out on the beach with one of them. We'd go to a beach bar for brunch and then just hang out on their comfy chairs for much of the afternoon, leaving to go swimming.
If you are ever travelling in South-East Asia, I highly recommend a stop in Sihanoukville. Its probably the most relaxing beach resort in the world.
By yesterday, however, I was getting restless and ready to move on, so I returned to Bangkok. This was a rather long journey. First, there was a 7 hour mini-bus ride to the border across a rather bad road. "Road," in this case, is being extremely generous. It was unpaved and, in many places, felt and looked like driving through a gravel pit. Not the most comfortable journey. Once across the border (no problem at all) it was onto a minibus for the hour long journey (over paved roads!) to Trat, then 5.5 hours on a regular bus to Bangkok. This bus exhibited two of the annoying traits common to Thai busses - excessive air condititioning and painfully loud music / movies. It seems that the thinking in Thailand is that since air conditioning is a good thing, air conditioning cranked way up is an even better thing. Its generally so cold on the busses that you need a blanked which, on the nicer buses, they give you. Its always a bit odd to be wrapped up in a blanket when it is 33C outside. We were also treated to a very bad movie and a few episodes of an indescribably bad Gong Show-style TV show. I won't even try to explain it, but suffice it to say that it consited entirely of silly jokes, many of them involving midgets of transvestites (or often both). This wouldn't have been so bad if the volume had been reasonable, but another feature of the busses here is that they turn up the volume so high that your ears are ringing when you arrive. Of course, the bus only cost $6 Canadian and was very nice, new and comfortable. In reality, I find the noise and the cold more confusing than annoying. It just baffles me, that's all.
I'm in Bangkok for the day. This morning, I got up early and booked a ticket on an overnight train to southern Thailand, connecting to a boat over to the island of Ko Tao. I've heard that the trains here are wonderful, so I'm really looking forward to it. I've got a sleeper bunk booked, so hopefully I'll get a good night's sleep. Ko Tao is considered the best place to dive in Thailand, so I'm really looking forward to it.
Blogging the Campaign
Two stories today (at least) about blogs and the campaign, from the citizen and CTV. Interesting that both focus on the parties' blogs - and assume that those are the blogs that may make the differnce (if any do) this campaign. I think it's a reflection of the fact that no 'grassroots' Canadian blog has yet managed to grab attention, but I wonder if it also reflects something fundamental about the Canadian versus the American blogosphere. And I'd turn this into an interesting post, but alas, no time. Something to ponder, anyway.
It Just Gets Weirder and Weirder
Today the Citizen reports that prior to the last provincial election, the Ontario Liberals agreed to pay the expenses of an Ottawa-area candidate who, like Alan Riddell in Ottawa-South, was bumped from the nomination. This compensation is being cast as 'being payed off,' and it can't be an accident that this story was leaked the day after the Riddell story ran. What I can't figure out, given the fact that these payments - while perhaps not wise or necessary - don't seem at all unethical, let alone illegal - is why so much ink is being spilled over all this. Why all these leaks? What's the motivation? What's the goal?
Let's Talk About SES - Day Nine
Lib 40%(+2) Con 28%(-2) NDP 17%(+1) BQ 11%(-10 Gr 4%(-1)
We may be seeing some real movement; the trend since the beginning of the weekend has been towards the Liberals. The NDP have stopped their slide, though it's not yet clear that they've really begun to regain some numbers in earnest. But the Bloc appears to be losing support, and the Grits appear to be picking that up.
Did the Tories make a mistake in focusing on issues instead of blasting the Liberals over Gomery? SES chief Nikita Nanos suggests as much, writing: "The shift in focus from the Advertising Scandal to issues such as daycare and healthcare seems to be playing to the Liberals favour." I still think the Tory campaign is on the right track - but it's time to acknowledge that it might be the right track for long-term as opposed to short-term success. Making clear conservative policy statements helps begin the process of shifting the Canadian goalposts, but Canadians may simply be unready to adopt Tory principles. On the other hand, I think a Tory minority government based solely on rejection of the Liberals and grounded in no firm conservative policy would be a disaster for the conservative movement in Canada.
Of course, the tone and focus of the campaign may change entirely after Christmas. But 40%-28% is not where you want to be, regardless.
Canada Held Hostage - Day Eight
It was a trifecta of policy announcements today. Paul Martin finally managed to get the Grits to the top of the news cycle with his announcement of an extension of the Liberal child care proposal that would transfer about $1 billion a year to the provinces to subsidize the creation of regulated child care centers. Martin's announcement, coming a day after Stephen Harper's own child care policy proposal, served to put the two parties' policies in contrast, further contributing to the general amazement that the parties seem willing to campaign on policy.
And speaking of which, it's not a Sunday so that means another policy announcement from Stephen Harper. Harper was out east to announce the Conservative Party's fisherman-friendly platform, which would include increased local control of fisheries and fish stocks. Interestingly, it would also include a reduction of the tax on fishing gear when it is transferred from one fisherman to another. This could encourage fishermen to pass their gear on from genereation to generation - but it might also remove a significant cost to getting out of the business altogether. In other words, the Tories may have found a way to make relocation of underemployed fishermen more economically feasible under the guise of ensuring that new generations of fishermen have cheaper access to the tools of the trade. (In case you can't tell, I'm not an ocean-type guy. Though this was my summer reading.)
Jack Layton, meanwhile, got into the action with a commitment to cut greenhouse emissions by 25%. Layton would effect the reduction through the introduction of a Clean Air Act and a Clean Water Act, among other measures. Wait a minute. Clean Air Act? Clean Water Act? Private clinics? It seems Jack has reconsidered the advantages of American-style politics.
It will be interesting to see whether these policy announcements serve to move the polls at all - they appear to have settled at stable levels for each of the parties. That's not good news for the Conservatives, for reasons I explain below.
And finally, a public service announcement. There's so much to blog about in this election - I could spend another hour, easily, talking about these income figures or Danny Williams' cold shoulder or what Americans and Brits think about Canada and the election. But I have to go to bed. Here's the deal: I've been swept up in the election, and it's fun, but I have law school exams starting next week and I really need to buckle down and study. I'll still post at least twice a day with my regular election features - analyzing the daily SES numbers and recapping the day's news - but otherwise posting may decline substantially. Luckily (ha!) this is an eight-week campaign, which means that there'll be lots of time for me to pick up the pace once more as soon as exams are done. Good night.
December 06, 2005
Let's Talk About SES - Day Eight
Lib 38%(+1) Con 30%(--) NDP 16%(--) BQ 12%(-1) Gr 5%(--)
No appreciable change from yesterday. Building on my earlier remarks, I think what we're seeing in the numbers is the core support of each party. After a week of campaigning, you'd expect to see some shift - but there's been almost none. That makes sense only if the respondents favoring one party are more or less decided, so that the ups and downs of the campaign have little if any effect on their support.
That means, as I suggested yesterday, that this race is all about the undecideds. If that's true, and if the numbers so far are accurate, that gives the Liberals a substantial lead. That's because their 'core' of supporters is large enough, relative to the Tory core, to put them in minority government range. If they can take 20-25% of the undecided voters (which, assuming that 20% of voters are undecided, would mean a 4-5% increase in support), they're looking at a solid minority, at least.
The Tories, therefore, have to take nearly all of the undecided vote to put them in the clear minority range. Only by taking nearly all of the undecided voters and stealing from the Liberal base can the Tories hope to dream about a real government.
This all assumes, of course, that the daily numbers aren't changing because those minds are made up. Unless those numbers show real change over the next week, I think that becomes an increasingly fair presumption.
UPDATE (11:28 CST 12/7/05): As dizzy points out in the comments, I've made a pretty fundamental mistake in my analysis - the ercentages attributed to each party add up to a little over %100, but given the 20% undecided figure, those percentages only represent up to 80% of the population. In order for the Grits to end up with 38% on election day, then, they'd need to pull 38% of the undecided vote. That's not impossible - I think the undecideds (at least those who vote) will be split between the Grits and the Tories), but it means that things are not as favorable to the Liberals as I'd thought.
The Thing About the GST
Glenn McGregor's daily election column in the Citizen is a great read, and one item today got me thinking. McGregor prohiles Johanne Savoie, who confronted Jean Chretien about his failure to abolish the GST in a 1996 'town hall meeting.' Asked about her opposition to the consumption tax, she says: "It's an impoverishing tax. It's levied more heavily on poor people who don't have savings and have to spend the money they make. It attacks the poor and young people. It should be eliminated."
I think this points to the possibility that those people who are most committed to abolishing the GST are those who are most opposed to the Conservative Party's general principles. That's not because the Tories are in favor of regressive taxes - obviously they're not - but because the alternative suggested by Ms Savoie is income redistribution. That's a policy that I don't expect even a Canadian conservative party to adopt any time soon.
That doesn't mean that the 5% plan will be ineffective in winning votes - most voters just want their own taxes to come down, and are less concerned about taxes on other people - but it does suggest that the people for whom a GST cut is most important may be entirely beyond the reach of Tory vote-winning efforts in any case.
Quote of the Day
It's fine if Mr. Layton thinks that dying in a hospital waiting line is a noble sacrifice for Queen and country. But don't expect the rest of us to agree.- The Ottawa Citizen
Fascinating story in today's Citizen about the Conservative nomination in Ottawa south. The story's firewalled, and I don't want to run afoul of the paper by reproducing it here but if you have a copy of the Citizen, the story is on page A3.
Here's the story, as best I can tell: back in May, Allan Riddel was disqualified from the candidacy, ostensibly because he had once donned a Nazi (sigh) uniform. Riddell appealed the disqualification, and in August a Conservative Party arbitration committee reversed the disqualification on the grounds that the 'nazi uniform' in question was in fact a Sgt. Shultz/Col. Klink costume. (This was, in my opinion, a good decision.)
Riddell rejoined the nomination battle, but in late November the Party apparently asked him to withdraw his nomination. Riddell agreed on condition that his expenses be reimbursed (he claimed about $50,000) and that the Party agree to arbitrate over liability for his expenses in challenging the earlier disqualification. The Party accepted Riddell's conditions, and asked in return that he release a statement 'unconditionally withdrawing' from the nomination race.
The controversy, as best I understand it, is that the Tories now appear to have 'paid off' a certain candidate not to run. I haven't had time to look up the elections act - maybe someone else can have a look - but the allegation seems to be that this would be a violation. The Liberals are pushing hard on this point, hoping to taint the replacement candidate, Allan Cutler.
Here's the interesting thing: we know all of these details because e-mails between the Party and Riddell have been leaked to various media outlets, including the Citizen. Now, I'm no dot-com millionaire, but it seems to me that an e-mail can be leaked by one of two parties: the party sending or the party receiving. Since the Tories are presumptively in the wrong, it seems fair to assume that the e-mails weren't leaked by the party sending.
That leaves Riddell. Why would the man who was twice bounced from the candidacy - once disqualified, once asked in clear terms to step aside - want to make the Party that bounced him look bad? Gee, I dunno. On the other hand, I understand Riddell is working with Ottawa-Vanier Conservative candidate Paul Benoit, so he must have some party loyalty.
At the end of the day, Riddell's motives for leaking his e-mails to the press make no difference as to the propriety of the deal the Tories are said to have cut with him. And it must be recognized that there may be another source of the e-mails, although for the life of me I can't think who; it should also be recognized that the e-mails, or parts thereof - like the odd assertion by the Party that there was a 'biding agreement' between it and Riddell - may be fake.
Assuming they are real, however, and assuming they were leaked by Riddell, then whatever they demonstrate about the Tory party, they demonstrate a lot more, I think, about the character of Allan Riddell.
Hold the Train
Stop the presses. Is that - could it be - is it really - yes! It's a Liberal policy announcement! And it has absolutely nothing to do with yesterday's announcement on the same topic by the Conservative Party!
The reason I keep harping on this reactive aspect of the Grit announcement is because the Grits have yet to show any initiative on this campaign. (Even Herr Lapierre's remarks were reactive.) I'm interested to see whether the Tories have another new policy announcement up their sleeve today, and if so, how the evening newscasts will run. Will it be 'Martin announces child care plan; meanwhile, Harper announces X'? Or will it be 'Harper announces X; meanwhile, Martin reacts to Harper's child care plan'?
As to the plan itself, I hope someone in each camp is crunching the Liberal numbers to figure out just how much money one might reasonably expect a family to end up with per child. Six billion dollars sounds impressive; $1.2 billion per province and territory per year sounds less impressive, but alright. But the question is how much of that money will disappear into the coffers of provincial governments, municipal governments, non-child care-related projects, and so on.
In any case, the whole exercise makes the Grits seem a bit, well, panicked. You can imagine the reasoning process: "Boss! Harper made an announcement on child care! Whaddawe do?" "Didn't we do child care last time?" "Yea! Five billion over five years!" "Uh... uh... we'll double it! No- we'll double it and add another million dollars! Schedule me a press conference."
No, I don't think that's really how it happened. (I hope.) But it's the optics of the thing.
UPDATE (10:32 CST): Wudrick points out that moving from $5 billion over five years to $11 billion over ten is not in fact a doubling, if the measure is what families and day care centers see. All the Liberals are doing here is spending money they would inevitably have spent if they were legislating an extension of the expenditure when it first expired.
Canada Held Hostage: Day Seven
I'm out of funny jokes about it. I'm even out of weak jokes about it. Yet again, Stephen Harper dominated the election agenda with his announcement of a Conservative day-care policy that would give money to families, rather than provinces, to subsidize day care for children under the age of six. The Martin Liberals are expected to announce their own day care plan tomorrow, and it will be an entire coincidence and not a reactionary move at all.
In other news, people wouldn't shut up about nazis, and since I really, really wish they would that's all I'm going to say about that.
The daily SES/CPAC tracking poll showed more of the same, while a new CTV poll showed that sixty-one percent of Canadians think Paul Martin is the most dishonest party leader. This suggests that if Harper really wants to get his numbers up, he needs to just start lying. (Ha, ha, yes I said start lying, thank you in the peanut gallery.)
And finally, what if Jack Layton threw a press conference and nobody came?
And on that existential note: good night.
December 05, 2005
There's More to This Story Than We Know
No sooner had the Conservatives unveiled a candidate meant to epitomize accountability, than leaked documents showed Allan Cutler was once investigated for a possible breach of ethics.The story notes - in the tenth paragraph - that Cutler was subsequently cleared of any conflict-of-interest allegations. The charges were levelled by ARI Financial, a firm that declined Cutler's help in competing for a government contract (after Cutler had left the government), and which threw a fit when Cutler thereafter helped a competitor to win the bid. But - and there's no denying this - it's a good story, so you can't blame the Liberals for leaking it. I mean, unless making a misleading allegation against a guy because he pointed out all the ways you were abusing the public trust (not to mention the public coffer) is conduct that some would find blameworthy. Who are we to say, in this crazy, mixed up world?
There's another wrinkle in this story, though: Allan Riddel - who ran for the Tories in Ottawa South last time around and whose name may be familiar to Maderblog regulars - alleges that the Conservative Party offered him $50,000 not to contest the seat. This would, for reasons not entirely clear to me, be bad. (I mean apart from the fact that Conservative donors might consider it a poor use of $50,000.) The Tory establishment is pushing back against the claim, not only denying it but pointing out that Riddell was bounced from the riding by the national committee for reasons that have never become entirely clear (at least not to me).
What does it all mean? That Cutler is polling well against McGuinty in Ottawa South, I'd wager, although if the various recent Ontario polls are to believed McGuinty could campaign in his boxers with a lampshade on his head and still take a majority. Do the Grits know something we don't know? Or is their propensity to play dirty entirely unrelated to the political necessity of doing so?
Paul Martin is a Big Liar
No, that's not my personal partisan opinion; rather, it's the opinion of sixty-one percent of Canadians according to a new CTV/Strategic Council poll. Harper was said to be the most dishonest leader by 21% of respondents. (I'm no mathemagician, but I'm pretty sure that means that a fair number of Liberal voters think Martin is more dishonest than Harper). Martin was also said to be the most hypocritical (49% to Harper's 31%), but was said to have the clearest vision of where he wants the country to go (34% to Harper's 29%).
Harper leads the pack in 'extreme views,' 47% to Layton's 23% to Martin's 13%. Unfortunately for Harper, I don't think that's 'extreme' in the sense of Extreme Sports.
CTV bills the poll results as "Martin, Harper both have strong negatives," but really - there's negatives and then there's having almost two thirds of the country know exactly why your trousers are singed. That the Tories haven't yet been able to sway some of these voters should be troubling.
Well, That's Novel
Hey, remember all those press conferences Belinda Stronach had last spring? The ones where she explained how she was leaving the Conservative Party because of the threat Stephen Harper posed to national unity?
Yea, me neither. I mean, really: what? Wh- did you just remember, Ms Stronach? Did you just never really feel the need to tell anyone? And did it not trouble you that your new boss and favored brand had managed to drive separatist sentiment to its highest level in a decade? Did these things occur to you at all?
Or are you just stumping on national unity in Toronto because Liberal campaign HQ has a poll saying national unity is important to Ontario voters?
OKAY, MY BAD (20:00 CST): I lexised Stronach and national unity for the period May 1 to July 1, 2005, and I got eight hits. This, from an article in the May 22 London Free Press, is representative:
[McKay] described Stronach's claim that the Conservatives could threaten national unity as "delusional."So she did tell people about it. My bad; my apologies.
Live in St. John's?
Join the Tory campaign's press gallery at the Duke of Duck tonight and give 'em your two cents on stuff. Sounds like a pretty good opportunity to break the fourth wall, or the fifth estate, or the sixth sense, or something.
Lonely at the Bottom
From a post on CTV's Election Blog:
Layton charged his two main opponents are trying to buy voters support with tax cuts. And a "star" candidate for the NDP agrees. Former Chief Economist for RBC Dominion Securities, Paul Summerville, is running for the NDP.Emphasis added. Couldn't they have bussed in some OCAP rabble-rousers or something? I mean, if the NDP can't draw a crowd in Toronto, where can they?
At a poorly attended media event on Bay Street, Summerville said, "The federal government has enough money to do its job. It doesn't need to raise taxes. So we won't."
Well, Vancouver, presumably. But you know what I mean.
For Goodness' Sake Just Stop Talking
And you thought this couldn't get any more embarassing: Gilles Duceppe has clarified his remarks regarding his stated desire to make the Liberals 'disappear' from Quebec in the coming election. Explanation should be entirely unnecessary, of course, since the plain meaning of the statement is obvious to anyone with a passing awareness that Quebec is currently in the middle of a federal election campaign. In a very telling demonstration, however, Liberal MP Jean Lapierre chose to interpret Duceppe's remarks to mean some sort of political genocide, and proceeded to call Duceppe a nazi.
It has been left to Canadian Jewish Congress head Bernie Farber to state the bleedingly obvious: "[T]he Nazi analogy made by Mr. Lapierre was regrettably inappropriate . . . . I don't think one can really compare anything in the democratic nation of Canada to Nazism." No kidding.
The Liberals have adopted an old school-yard tactic, however, deciding that when you're caught out saying something really outrageous the best bet is to simply refuse to apologize and argue that really it's not outrageous at all. And so now we have the further embarassing spectacle of Pierre Pettigrew and Paul Martin himself arguing that, ok, maybe the Bloc aren't nazis, but they're just like nazis:
"He cannot tolerate people who think differently. He's been trying to shut up the strong Quebec voices in Ottawa in order to promote his separation plans," Pettigrew told CTV Montreal from the UN conference for climate change.Calling your political opponents 'nazis' is, however, entirely fair game and not destructive of democracy at all.
Liberal Leader Paul Martin, meanwhile, said Duceppe's comments demonstrate a "narrowness of mind and an arrogance that is simply unacceptable."
"Essentially, what they're saying is if you don't share the separatist option, then we don't believe that you belong in contemporary Quebec."
Once again: we let these people run the country.
Let's Talk About SES - Day Seven
Lib 37%(-1) Con 30%(+1) NDP 16%(+1) BQ 13%(-1) Gr 5%(--)
Not much change in today's numbers. The contours of the race remain the same: the Grits have a healthy lead, probably not enough for a majority but looking in that direction; the Tories are struggling around the 30% mark, solid in their base but as yet unable to win anyone over; the NDP trail as many of their members consider voting for someone else but can't decide who; the Bloc do their own thing; and five percent of people are just having fun with everyone.
Notice that almost 20% of respondents remain undecided. You can approach these numbers in one of two ways. You could assume that undecided voters would break for the parties in exactly the same proportions as decided voters. On the other hand, you could assume that whatever makes these voters undecided sets them sufficiently apart from decided voters to suggest that they will not in fact break in proportion, and that whatever makes them undecided will serve to drive them towards one or another party in the end.
If you subscribe to the latter view, as I do, the question becomes how unlikely voters might be expected to break. The working assumption has to be, I think, that voters will go with the devil they know. That's what turned the tide last time around - the successful Liberal demonization of the Conservative Party. But it's not clear to me that the same thing will work this time. The devil we know is a lot more devilish this time around, and honesty in government is a key voter concern. This gives the Tories what I'll call the 'what the hell' factor. It's all about what the undecided voter thinks the moment before he checks his ballot. Last time, he (or she, more likely) thought: what the hell, might as well vote Liberal again. This time I think the odds are better that she'll say: what the hell, I'll vote Conservative.
These are the voters, I think, that the Tories need to campaign to.
Don't Worry - It's Not a Flip Flop
I'm not sure how I missed this, since I'm covering election news like something that covers something else very closely, but apparently Jack Layton has now said that he won't crack down on private clinics. This appears to contradict at least the spirit of Layton's earlier comments lambasting Grits and Tories alike for encouraging 'credit-card health care.'
But in Jack's defense, it's not really a flip-flop. Layton criticized the other parties for their apparent determination to fix health care through privitization. Layton didn't attack private health care itself; he just said that he wouldn't turn to the private sector to fix the system. Nonetheless, Layton walked himself right into this 'gotcha' situation and is going to take some hits over it.
Hide Your Savings
The former managing director of TD Bank is a socialist?
The NDP is not in favour of higher taxes, but would rather invest in social programs than deliver broad tax cuts, the party announced on Monday. NDP Leader Jack Layton stepped aside at a campaign stop in Toronto to allow candidate Paul Summerville to lay out the New Democrat tax policy.I suppose that it's not that unusual, except that it doesn't make any sense at all. Or is Summerville a Liberal who can't bring himself to run for the Grits post-Gomery? That would be juicy. Has the man been involved in politics before? In any case, good for the NDP to buck up their economic cred.
Summerville is a former chief economist with RBC Dominion Securities and managing director of the TD Bank. He is running for the party in the Toronto riding of St. Paul's.
Summerville does get the award for understatement of the day for his pronouncement that "The federal government has enough money to do its job." Just enough for the NDP to spend, I think.
Tories Unveil Daycare Plan
It's the first day of the second week of the Christmas campaign, and that means . . . another Conservative policy announcement! Speaking in Ottawa, Stephen Harper introduced the Tory plan to give $1,200 to every family for every child under six. Harper also pledged tax credits to encourage the creation of more child care facilities.
When the Liberals (and NDP) get around to reacting, this will (I'm guessing) turn into a public-versus-private debate, although I'm not sure that's a bad thing for the Tories. But note that the Tory plan would be a massive state-ward shift from the status quo. Now, I've been out of the country for a while, so maybe I just missed it, but I have to ask: when did we have a debate about the propriety of a national child-care system? I'm not saying I necessarily disagree with the notion, I'm just saying that even Harper's plan seems to take as given a societal consensus on the need for state-funded child care.
Canada Held Hostage: Day Six
Hey, remember when Stock Day said he wouldn't campaign on Sundays and everybody when crazy?
Right. In news that is, I'm sure, entirely unrelated, none of the party leaders did any serious campaigning today. Day Six of the Christmas campaign will come to be remarkable as the first day on which a member of one party called a member of another party a nazi. Well, in public anyway. Hey, wasn't Lapierre involved with the Bloc during that whole 'pur laine'/'money and the ethnic vote' period? Maybe a bit? Just asking.
Speaking of mixed messages, the Tories and the Grits have both released their first slew of television ads, which will now show interminably during hockey games starting this week. Warren Kinsella notices something interesting: whereas the Tory ads feature Harper prominently, a certain leader is conspicuously absent from the Liberal spots.
Not that they should worry too much - today's SES/CPAC daily tracking poll puts the Grits a full nine points up, which can't make the Tories too happy given the fact that the campaign has gone nearly as well as they could have hoped up until this point. If the numbers stay like this through the next week, optimistic Conservatives are going to have to start hoping that people just aren't paying attention yet.
December 04, 2005
Easy Political Potshot of the Night
Gee, I wish I could afford a two hundred and forty dollar wreath.
Or how about this one: if Stephen Harper wins, it'll be a two hundred and thirty-five dollar wreath.
(Okay, that second one not so much.)
Which federal party was the first to be compared to the Nazis by a Liberal cabinet minister?
If you answered the Conservatives, you're - wrong! Hard to believe, seeing as crosses are being burned on B.C. lawns as we speak. In fact, it was the Bloc Quebecois. You see, the nefarious Gilles Duceppe suggested that the Bloc might sweep the Quebec ridings on January 23, thereby making the Liberals 'disappear,' and this reference to disappearing was a little too much for the culturally sensitive Jean Lapierre. According to CTV's election blog:
Transport Minister Jean Lapierre pulled out his rhetorical sledgehammer in Montreal this afternoon, calling Gilles Duceppe's tone "Nazi-like." The reason; in a speech near Montreal, the Bloc leader told a crowd of supporters he hoped the sovereigntists would sweep all 75 Quebec ridings, and the Liberals would "disappear" on election day. A few hours later, Lapierre summoned reporters to the front door of his Outremont home, and unleashed a torrent of incredulity. He said that in a democracy, suggesting you want your political enemies to "disappear" goes too far, and he demanded Duceppe retract.Sigh. Folks, we let these people run the country.
INCIDENTALLY: What does it say about Jean Lapierre that his first reaction upon hearing the word 'disappear' is to think of concentration camps?
MEANWHILE: Might the Grits be doing some 'disappearing' of their own? (I'm kidding here.)
Look! A Dead Horse!
Okay, a little more on same sex marriage. Oh, c'mon, you know you love it.
Matt in the comments to my earlier post, and Justin in an e-mail, raise the issue of provincial courts that have found a heterosexual definition of marriage to be unconstitutional. This is the point where I reiterate my total lack of understanding of the Canadian judicial system. The American is rather simple, really: there's the federal system, and there are the state systems, and each keeps to itself except for more or less all the time when they don't and it all gets devilishly complicated, and I have an exam on that in two weeks thankyouverymuch.
What I don't understand is the whole federal-courts-are-provincial-courts-are-federal-courts system. Who appoints provincial judges? The feds! What law do they apply? The federal law! And also provincial law! I think!
In any case, I think my totally off-the-cuff analysis remains fundamentally sound. Let's run through the scenario: Currently, no provincial court (I take it) holds the Civil Marriage Act to be unconstitutional. Assume the Tories win, and a private member's bill is introduced and passed restoring the old definition of marriage. At that point, the law (let's call it the Civil Marriages Act (2006)) mimics a law that had been declared unconstitutional by certain provincial courts. Let's assume that those same courts then declare the new law to be a violation of the Charter, or whatever other provisions of the constitution it might violate. We find ourselves back where we started prior to the enactment of the CMA(2005).
And my question is: nu?
The assumption seems to be that, presented with a split between the provincial courts, the Supreme Court would finally take and decide Question Four - and that it would find a constitutional violation. That's the only way an invocation of the Notwithstading Clause becomes necessary. In short, the argument against Harper's plan is that because the Court will inevitably strike his law down, he might as well own up to his intent to invoke the Notwithstanding Clause from the get-go.
But see, that's not how the game goes. It's entirely possible - stay with me here - that the Court would not find the law unconstitutional. But in any case, it hasn't found it unconstitutional yet. And that makes all the difference. If Harper and the Tories were to pass the marriage law, that would not be 'flouting the constitution' or whatnot. It would be exercising the legislative power of Parliament, and the law itself would be as legitimate, authoritative and - even - constitutional as any other law. To assume the unconstitutionality of the law before it's been decided upon is to expand the protections of the Charter without the protections of process or judicial deliberation.
All things considered, I'd rather not.
Liberal Ads Out
The Liberals win the first round of the ad war with these three offerings - upbeat, positive, good visuals, and just amateurish enough not to appear slick. And also, much, much better music.
Equality, Marriage, Parliament and the Courts
In the comments to an earlier post, Kelly asked me about the Conservative proposal to put the definition of marriage to a free vote in Parliament with an eye towards returning to a heterosexual standard. Specifically, Kelly asked how - as Stephen Harper has pledged - same sex couples married under the current regime would retain their rights while other same sex couples looking to marry would be prohibited from doing so.
I'm going to take a first stab at this (although, to do my part to keep this politically-unpopular issue alive, I'll most likely return to it over the course of the campaign), but I want to make clear from the outset that I know no more than the next guy about Canadian law. The Canadian and American legal systems, although both common-law systems, are very, very different - and that includes substantive equality standards. The opinions expressed herein are in no sense based on a learned understanding of Canadian law and jurisprudence; they are simply my opinions based on my own reading of the applicable law and decisions.
First, some background. In the summer of 2003, the government certified to the Supreme Court four questions relating to a proposed bill to recognize same sex marriage. Those four questions were, in plain language, as follows:
1. Does Parliament have the exclusive power to pass the proposed same sex marriage legislation?The Supreme Court found as follows:
2. If so, is the new definition of marriage constitutional?
3. If so, is the part of the law allowing religious officials to refuse to marry same sex couples constitutional?
4. Finally, is a heterosexual definition of marriage unconstitutional?
1. Parliament has the exclusive power to define marriage, but not the exclusive power to regulate those who would officiate.In other words, the Supreme Court of Canada has never ruled that the definition of marraige as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others is unconstitutional. Now many folks who know an awful lot more about Canadian constitutional law have said that Harper's proposal would require the Tories to invoke the notwithstanding clause, but it seems to me that would only be true if a subsequent Supreme Court decision were to strike down the law as contrary to the Charter. All that the Supreme Court has found - and in an advisory opinion - is that a same sex definition of marriage is constitutional. The key point is that simply because A is constitutional, that does not mean that the inverse of A is not constitutional.
2. The new definition of marriage is constitutional.
3. The part of the law allowing religious leaders to refuse to marry same sex couples is constitutional.
4. This is the important part: the Court refused to answer the question
In any case, the government subsequently passed Bill C-38, which reads in its most pertinent part as follows:
Marriage, for civil purposes, is the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others.Again, it's true that the Supreme Court found this definition to be consistent with the Constitution, but that simply does not mean that any contrary definition would be contrary to the constitution. The Supreme Court has never found that a heterosexual definition of marriage would be unconstitutional.
So what would a Conservative marriage bill look like? I'd guess something like this:
Marriage, for civil purposes, is the lawful union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.Or something. You get the picture.
Any law to the contrary, including the Civil Marriage Act , is hereby repealed.
No two persons recognized as married under the authority of the Civil Marriage Act  shall be denied any of the benefits, privileges or incidents of marriage, regardless of the sex of the members of the union.
But Kelly raises a deeper question. Assume for the moment that a heterosexual definition of civil marriage is constitutional - that the resulting inequity between heterosexual and homosexual couples is not a constitutional violation. Might the inequality among homosexual couples be a constitutional violation itself? In other words, would the recognition of 'interim' same sex marriages create an unconstitutional inequality?
I honestly don't know the answer. I think it probably ultimately comes down to the same principles as would underlie the constitutionality of a heterosexual definition of marriage: that so long as all the incedents of 'marriage' were available to all couples - through, for instance, the type of 'civil unions' favored by Harper - the fact that couples would be discriminated against in the label affixed to their union would not rise to the level of constitutional violation. That would be true not only as between heterosexual and homosexual couples, but also among homosexual couples depending on the time of their union.
At least that's how I see it. Thoughts?
On the Perils of Strategic Voting
Nestruck has some thoughts. He concludes: "[The NDP] really need to be clear about how sometimes a vote for the Liberals is a vote for the Conservatives. And, worse, a vote for the Liberals is always a vote for the Liberals." Indeed.
Let's Talk About SES - Day Six
Lib 38% (+2) Con 29% (-2) NDP 15% (+1) BQ 14% (--) Gr 5% (--)
Can't really say I know what to make of these numbers. I was expecting more Tory momentum, so the Tories must have fared rather poorly in Saturday's poll. It can't be encouraging to be trailing after what's widely being recognized as the strongest campaign start among the major parties. If the numbers remain stubborn, the pressure to go negative will mount - especially given the polls suggesting that honesty in government is a top priority for voters.
That all being said, I think it's becoming undeniable that Canadians are giving the NDP a pass this time around - probably, I'd wager, because of the underlying desire for a majority government. Unless the Grits or Tories can draw significant numbers from the other's camp, however, a minority government is all we'll get in January.
What He Said
When not getting grief from Ukrainian-Canadians, Harvard academic and Liberal candidate Michael Ignatieff is being questioned over his supposed 'support for torture.' But according to the excerpts in this piece, Ignatieff has only done what I've tried to do here: come up with a rational distinction between torture and the sorts of coercive treatment that are inevitable in an incarceration - and that may well be acceptable as methods of interrogation. And it sounds like Ignatieff and I've come to largely the same conclusion:
Permissible duress might include forms of sleep deprivation that do not result in lasting harm to mental or physical health, together with disinformation and disorientation, like keeping prisoners in hoods, that would produce stress. . . .Yea. It's unfortunate that the treatment of all coercive procedures as 'torture,' an irrational position championed, regrettably, by Andrew Sullivan, has been imported to Canada. I don't know much about Ignatieff, and haven't followed the Ukrainian brouhaha, but on this he's right, and I'm with him.
What crosses the line into the impermissible would be any physical coercion or abuse, any involuntary use of drugs or serums, any withholding of necessary medicines or basic food, water and essential rest.
Only in Canada would this question even have to be asked; only in Canada would Harper's be considered the 'wrong answer.' It would be ludicrous if it weren't so depressing.
UPDATE: Taking a page from Adam and Tasha, and not wanting to come across as anti-Canada, you can replace the phrase 'only in Canada' in this post with 'only in Trudeaupia.' Let's look forward to a Canada where health policy is directed toward saving lives, not advancing a deadly political agenda.
New Tory Ads
The Conservatives have three new television ads, which you can see here. Not sure what I think, although they're sure to disappoint those wanting a hard-hitting campaign against Liberal corruption. On the other hand, they're not exactly 'Morning Again in America' either.
The Persecution of Lord Black
There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it cecomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted - and you create a nation of law-breakers - and then you cash in on guilt."
-Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, 1957
Pretty prescient, eh? I'm reading Atlast Shrugged while travelling. Its wonderful. Reading this quote made me thing immediately of Conrad Black, now being persecuted by jealous men angry at him for having succeeded. I remain confident that he will be vindicated in the end. And if he is not, if he is punished for the ridiculous "crimes" of which he is accused, it will be another step towards the economic and societal collapse Rand predicted.
On the Beach
I know its been a few days since I posted last, so I wanted to give everyone an update. I hope that those of you in Canada are enjoying the campaign. I'm going to be back for the last two weeks of it, which I'm happy about.
I'm now in Sihanoukville, the one beach resort in Cambodia. After spending three days touring the amazing temples of Angkor Wat, I then spent 2 days in Pnom Penh, the capital. I wasn't expecting much. After years of civil war, it had a reputation as not the nicest city. However, I found it to be quite nice, with wide boulevards and a lovely riverfront. Lots of nice cafes and patios to sit on. Quite nice. It also, of course, has its history. I'll be posting more on them later, but I went to see a couple of the sites of Kmher Rouge attrocities - a political prison and the killing field's themselves. Terrible, shocking places, that show the true cost of socialism.
A couple days ago, I continued on to Sihanoukville. Its lovely here - long stretches of nearly empty beach. It is still not very developed, so you can sit right on the beach, or eat (or drink) at a little bar / restaurant, right on the water, for next to nothing. There's not a lot to do here, but that's the point - its a place to relax, do nothing, and be lazy. And that's exactly what I'm doing.
Daifallah's Ups and Downs
Adam Daifallah presents the first installment of what he promises will be a weekly evaluation of the Conservative and Liberal campaigns. I think he's spot on this week, so swing on over and check it out.
(And then buy his book.)
December 03, 2005
Let's Talk About SES - Day Five
Lib 36%(-1) Con 31%(+2) NDP 14%(-1) BQ 14%(--) Gr 5%(--)
Today's SES/CPAC tracking poll shows - according to SES head Nikita Nanos - the emergence of a two-way race between the Liberals and the Conservatives, with NDP support sliding. The decision of union boss Buzz Hargrove to endorse the Martin Liberals is said to be contributing to this dynamic, although I think the NDP slide predates Hargrove's Friday announcement. If Hargrove does have an effect, look for it in tomorrow's numbers - which will drop Wednesday and include Saturday, the first post-endorsement survey. Just as important as Hargrove's announcement, I think, is the fact that NDP voters are more likely to engage in strategic voting. This firewalled piece from the Citizen suggest that up to 25% of NDP-leaning respondents are willing to bolt to the Liberal banner if a Tory victory looks likely. If it's true that many NDP votes are up for grabs, the challenge for the Tories will be to do the improbable and steal some of that NDP vote. That may not be impossible; that same firewalled Citizen piece suggests that government integrity is the issue most likely to affect voting intentions, and that the NDP and the Tories both outstrip the Liberals in the 'most likely to run an honest government' category.
Incidentally, the most interesting tidbit from that Citizen piece (aside from Keith Fountain's grad write-up, and the bit about the dominatrix running in Ottawa-Vanier) was the suggestion that while the Liberals lead in a straight poll, a poll of 'likely voters' puts the Tories dead even. Keep in mind that if the parties finish even in the popular vote - say 33% each - the Tories stand to take more seats.
In any case, I expect the Tory momentum to continue in tomorrow's poll, as the Friday and Saturday numbers begin to better reflect the impact of the strong first week.
A couple of notes: first, whereas SES is comparing its daily poll to a November 23 poll (so that the +/- behind the daily number reflects the change relative to that 11/23 poll), I'm going to be comparing each day's result to the result of the day before. This allows for a better sence of momentum, I think.
Second, I'm not reproducing or discussing the other poll data collected by SES - leadership indicators, best PM and so on. Largely this is because the margins of error are so high that changes in the data become hard to evaluate (in my mind, anyway). If we see big jumps - big enough to indicate a trend - I'll make mention. But in the interest of full disclosure I will say that these numbers suggest that Harper has a long way to go to convince Canadians that he would be a good PM.
Have You Bought It Yet?
Rescuing Canada's Right, by Tasha Kheiriddin and Adam Daifallah. Go to, go to! A wonderful present for this Christmas campaign - and beyond!
Harper's Law & Order Policy
I'm not sure about it. First off, I'm not crazy about mandatory minimums. Certainly it's important to have the legislature, rather than the courts, make the law. Still, judges should have, I think, some core level of discretion in sentencing. Where 'minimums' are in fact simply increased 'floors' on the acceptable range of terms of incarceration, I think they're ok; where they constitute formulas such that for X transgression the punishment is A, for Y the punishment B and so on, I find them increasingly problematic.
Second, does Canada really need a drug war? Even if we assume for the sake of argument that most crime in Canada has some connection with the drug industry, that doesn't mean that the manufacture, sale and use of drugs should be criminal; on the contrary, it suggests that they should be brought into the legal and transparent world of commerce, such that the low-life criminals who currently profit from them will profit no more. Moreover, to the extent that violent crime attaches to the drug industry, the problem is the violent crime - not the drugs. Finally, while refusing to decriminalize marijuana - a position more likely to deter than to attract voters - would be understandable if it tracked the principles underlying the Tory platform, the fact is that it smacks of the same statist mistrust of individual Canadians as any Liberal or NDP social program.
Being tough on crime is always good politics. Too bad the Tories didn't focus on, say, increasing the penalty for shooting a cop in the face.
UPDATE (19:28 CST): Oops. I realize I've done just what I criticized economists for doing in reaction to the 5% plan. Sure, mandatory minimums might not be the best way to fight crime - but they're not necessarily bad policy. And it's not clear that in this instance 'mandatory minimums' means 'higher sentence ranges.' In any case, having caught myself going negative on a policy because of my own technical views - rather than evaluating it politically - I figured I had to do a mea culpa.
I still oppose a drug war, however.
Canada Held Hostage: Days Four & Five Blockbuster
Sorry for missing yesterday's installment. Here's a retrospective.
Lib 37% Con 29% NDP 15% BQ 14% Gr 5%
Guess whose policy announcement dominated the campaign agenda yet again? I know, I know, it's not even fun guessing anymore. For the third straight day, Stephen Harper made the campaign his own by announcing a Tory commitment to guaranteed-maximum wait times for health care procedures. Under the Conservative plan, patients who did not receive treatment within the prescribed period would be able to go to other jurisdictions for treatment. Speaking in Toronto, Paul Martin expressed skepticism at Harper's plan to improve wait-times, saying that he had never been able to do it himself. No, I'm serious:
"We have to deal with wait times," the Liberal leader said. "We have to work with provinces and Stephen Harper has never been there and now, all of a sudden, he's going to tell us that a conversion on the road to Damascus is taking place. Give me a break."Because if Uncle Paul can't do it, no one can. Meanwhile, a new poll suggests that half of Liberal voters are open to - and may in fact favor - a mixed public/private health care system.
In Ontario, Paul Martin was given a substantial boost by union boss Buzz Hargrove, who urged union members to vote Liberal - at least where voting NDP wouldn't do any good. That'll put a dent in Jack Layton's efforts to increase his showing in Parliament, and polls are already showing a drop in NDP support.
Lib 36%(-1) Con 31%(+2) NDP 14%(-1) BQ 14%(--) Gr 5%(--)
You know how it goes: Conservative Leader Stephen Harper put the Conservative platform in the campaign spotlight once more with his announcement of a tough law & order policy targetted at the illicit drug industry. Harper also pledged not to reintroduce legislation decriminalizing, let alone legalizing, marijuana. As Paul Wells says: "The Liberal war room is substantially stronger than last year, but good reaction is still reaction."
The latest SES daily tracking poll suggests Conservative momentum entering the weekend, while the NDP continues to slide.
Finally, thousands took to the streets of Montreal to protest global warming. Global warming didn't notice.
December 02, 2005
Let's Talk About SES - Day Four
Lib 37%(+3) Con 29%(+1) NDP 15%(-5) BQ 14%(--) Gr 5%(+1)
Today sees the release of the first SES/CPAC rolling poll; results here. The poll is in fact an amalgam of three consecutive nights of polling; by adding the latest night's data and dropping the oldest day's, the poll tracks trends rather than simply giving a snapshot devoid of context.
The SES team appear to have held off for a day in order to be able to present data for both Wednesday and Thursday. The overnight trend - dropping Monday's data and adding Thursday's - shows a slight move away from the Tories in the Maritimes and a move towards the Tories in Ontario. It's hard to read this - especially because the margins of error might account for at least part of the trends - but this may reflect the impact of the leaders' movement from the Maritimes on Wednesday to Ontario yesterday.
The poll will become more useful over time, as we have more trend-lines, but at the moment I think a couple of points can be made. First, the Tories are very competitive in Ontario; second the Tories are not as competitive in the Maritimes; and third, NDP voters seem to be willing to vote for one of the other parties, but unsure which one to vote for.
I think the NDP factor is the most important. In the past, disgust with the Liberals and distrust of the Tories led a lot of voters to the NDP. But with a general desire not to see another minority government, many erstwhile NDP voters may be willing to hold their collective nose and vote for one of the other parties. That magnifies the importance of Harper's same sex comments on Tuesday, but may also magnify the importance of his 5% plan - since the GST is a regressive tax, a cut in which will benefit lower-income earners disproportionately to more affluent Canadians.
I think the numbers should be, at least facially, disappointing to a Conservative Party that's run a (relatively) slick campaign in this first week; I think (hope) the lack of results can be traced to the fact that Canadians are not yet paying close attention to the race. If that's the case, the best bet for the Tories would be to stay the course so that, by repeating the fundamentals of their message, Canadians will become aware of it over time even without focused attention.
Unusual Definition of 'Silent'
Martin accuses Harper of being silent on key issues. Specifically, Martin says that Harper has been silent on the key issues of the economy, the environment and child care.
Leave aside, for the moment, two things: leave aside the fact that the Liberals have yet to make a policy announcement this campaign, while the Tories have made three; leave aside the fact that one of those policy announcements, the one which got the most press and the one which Martin himself was asked about again today, was about the economy.
Leaving aside those two things, we're still left with a remarkably ill-conceived statement from the Liberal leader. Let's assume that Harper has in fact been 'silent' on these 'key issues.' In order to address this criticism, Harper would have to stop being silent on these issues. For the past three straight days, the Tory leader has announced major policies on different subjects. What are the odds, do you think, that Harper in fact has announcements planned for each of the 'key issues' identified by Martin?
I'd say the odds were pretty much even. So in the coming weeks, we can be fairly confident that Harper will announce policies addressing each of these issues, as well as others - while there's no reason to believe that Martin has any policy announcements up his sleeve.
Well played, Uncle Paul. Well played.
All At Once?
In an interview in today's Ottawa Citizen (may be firewalled), Adam Daifallah and Tasha Kheiriddin - authors of Rescuing Canada's Right - suggest that while individual Conservative policy procedurs are all nice and good, a full-fledged platform would be better. Says Daifallah: "I like the Mike Harris model, which is to throw everything out there at once."
I'm not so sure. Not only would a total policy statement - a 'blue book' - be open to Liberal plagiarism, as Daifallah notes, it would also concentrate the effect of the policy announcements. In an election campaign, the impact of a comprehensive policy announcement is, I think, less than the sum of the impact of each individual policy announcement contained therein. As we've seen this week, a single policy announcement will dominate the news cycle, making the Tory agenda the driving force in the campaign and leaving the other parties reacting.
In fact, what I think we may be seeing is a string of policy announcements leading up to a comprehensive position platform. At some point in the coming weeks - following a series of individual policy pronouncements - Harper will say "in the past weeks you've seen a number of proposals from the Conservative Party; here's how it all comes together; here's the common theme." At that point there will be a single 'blue book,' but each item will have been aired - no hidden agendas here - and by so airing each item, the contents of the Conservative platform will have been the crux of the entire campaign.
That's what I'd do, anyway. Oh, and incidentally, if the Joel Kom who wrote the Citizen article is the same Joel Kom I went to elementary school with, then, well, I went to elementary school with that guy. Cool.
UPDATE: Joel e-mails to say that yes, it is he. All I can say is: small world.
Another Conservative Policy Proposal
Not as big as the previous, but it'll make headlines:
A Conservative government would establish and enforce guaranteed wait times for health-care services, Stephen Harper said on Friday. . . .Makes sense. Incidentally, I've been thinking about the Grits' immediate embrace of free-market economic principlesin reaction to the 5% plan yesterday, and it's left me wondering. Can we expect a similar reaction to this announcement - that guaranteed wait times are a second-best solution, and that the only way to ensure cost-effective health care for Canadians is to abolish the Canada Health Act?
Harper's plan would allow patients to go to other provinces to get services their own province can't provide within the limits.
Suprisingly, I'm not holding my breath.
Another Unfriendly Headline
From the Citizen:
Liberals can't claim credit for economyFor those keeping track, this report exhibits the second of the two perspectives I discussed here: that the natural state of affairs is for money to remain with the individual; that government should therefore take as little as possible to perform its functions; and that whatever it takes, and certainly whatever it takes over and above what it immediately needs, represents a distortion of the natural state of affairs.
Group says Martin has held back growth with excessive taxes
Despite Paul Martin's claims, the Canadian economy's good performance is not a result of the Liberal government's actions, says a new report by a private-sector think-tank that has helped the government prepare its budget forecasts.
While Mr. Martin's Liberals have claimed credit for the economy's performance, which most analysts agree is at or near its full non-inflationary capacity, with unemployment at a 30-year low, the government has been acting as a drag on growth, says the report by Global Insight.
December 01, 2005
Canada Held Hostage: Day Three
Once again, Conservative leader Stephen Harper dominated the day's election news with his proposal to cut the GST to 5%. Harper's proposal was met with immediate and widespread criticism based on the notion that cutting income taxes is a better way to achieve tax relief, thereby demonstrating that - contrary to popular opinion - Canada is in fact a nation of rabid free-market economists.
While Paul Martin's Liberals and various media talking heads were debating whether a cut to the consumption tax would be at the top of Milton Friedman's all-time wish list (as opposed to #2), most seemed to have missed the point that for the second day in a row everyone else was reacting to a Conservative policy proposal.
Meanwhile, a CTV/Strategic Counsel poll showing no appreciable change in the parties' popularity from the immediate pre-writ period did find that Canadians appear more receptive to the Conservative message of change than to the Liberal message of good economic management. However, the poll also found that Stephen Harper has an 18% net unpopularity rating (41%+/59%-), compared to Martin's 8% net unpopularity. Whether Harper's dominance of the campaign agenda and his corresponding public exposure can improve his image is yet to be seen.
Paul Martin made his own policy pronouncement today, declaring unequivocally that he would never permit Quebec to have its own hockey team in international competitions. Martin said that Canadians had a strong national interest in ensuring a French-Canadian goaltender.
Jack Layton was in southern Ontario and said something about cars - but Layton has, quite wisely, decided to run a campaign aimed at simply increasing the NDP's presence in Parliament, and so spares himself the trouble of announcing concrete policy proposals. (That's not facetious - I think Layton is doing exactly the right thing, and I think it will pay off.)
At the end of Day Three, observers are left with a single question: does Harper have a major policy announcement up his sleeve for every day of this eight-week campaign? Stay tuned...
Until I Fail My Exams, Charlebois
Since you asked. Actually, once I fail my exams from blogging so much, I'll have a lot more time for... blogging.
Seriously, though, this pace won't keep, alas. Luckily, the campaign is long enough that after a brief hiatus for exams, I should be able to resume the whirlwind pace for the home stretch.
And If Anyone Knows About Winning Elections...
Consumption and Inflation
Okay, the best argument I've heard so far that the 5% policy is affirmatively bad is the suggestion that by encouraging consumption the policy will lead to inflation.
As an economic proposition the argument seems sound enough to me. But it reveals, I think, a particular attitude towards tax dollars that might point to the ultimate divide over the 5% plan.
The argument, again, is that by cutting the consumption tax, the 5% plan will make consumption less expensive, and will thereby lead to more of it. This will be bad, the argument goes, because increasing demand will inflate prices. But here's the thing: increased consumption relative to today will increase prices relative to today. The inflation argument assumes that where we're at now is the status quo and should be the basis against which policy proposals are measured.
But there's no reason to think that's true. As it stands, the government charges you 7% on every purchase you make. That's not the status quo; the status quo would have the government charging you nothing on every purchase you make. If no taxation is the norm, the current state of affairs represents a distortion of the status quo. If any reduction of the tax rate represents a move toward the appropriate state of affairs, any increase in consumption will not be 'encouraged' so much as 'unrestricted,' and will represent something closer to the proper state of affairs. If this results in inflation, the inflation would be a natural consequence of the proper state of the economy - not a consequence of the tax cut.
The inflation argument therefore depends on a particular understanding of tax. Opponents of the 5% plan, I would suggest, see tax cuts as a tool with which to effect macroeconomic policy: we start with the status quo and evaluate any deviation from it. Proponents, on the other hand, see tax cuts as a tool with which to move the economy back to its proper state - unfettered by government interference and in the hands of citizens.
CTV had an interesting back-and-forth between John Mckay, formerly Parliamentary Secretary to the Minster of Finance, and Monte Solberg, former opposition finance critic (starts at about the 12:20 mark). The clip is interesting for two reasons: it's essentially a free debate between two members of the two major parties - something you don't see all too much of in American campaigns, I think; and it has a wonderful instance of a Liberal tripping over the English language and a Conservative gently correcting him. The word, Mr. McKay, is 'disingenuous,' not 'disingenius.'
I'm sure you've heard the story. I'd point out to M. Duceppe that Scotland only got its legislature back recently; I'm not sure that the Scotland model is really the way he wants Quebec to go. I mean, unless by sovereignty he means simply getting to be called a country in a restricted set of international sporting competitions.
On the other hand, I think Martin was a bit dismissive. There's no reason to think that Duceppe's proposal is self-evidently bad, only that it's probably bad in sum. Martin's haughty dismissal will turn more than a few Quebecers off, I think. In any case, it was telling.
What Would We Do Without Economists?
Economists say a cut in the GST might be politically popular among consumers who are hit on every coffee and each doughnut. But they don't like the idea as an economic tool. They're wary of Stephen Harper's promise to cut the GST by two percentage points over the next five years.But tell us how you really feel, Chris.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid," said Christopher Ragan, a McGill University economist who favours the Conservatives.
But here's the thing: most of the criticism from these economists comes down to the argument that an income tax cut, and not a consumption tax cut, would be the better way to go:
"I believe it's a poor idea," said economist Mike Veal of McMaster University in Hamilton. He said most economists would choose an income tax cut.And so on. For the record, I agree - a consumption tax is a better tax. But that doesn't make a cut in the conumption tax bad. The story has no explanation of why - all else being equal - the 5% idea isn't a good one.
Jim Davies, who teaches economics at the University of Western Ontario, said he would prefer income tax cuts. . . .
Benjamin Alarie, a University of Toronto economist, agreed that an income tax cut is the right route if the idea is to help lower-income people.
The Andrew Coyne article quoted earlier suggests what I think is the best argument against the plan: by decreasing GST revenues, the plan will increase the demand on non-GST revenues to support government spending. In other words, by cutting the GST, the plan makes income tax revenues more important - and therefore harder to cut in the future. Because consumption taxes are better than income taxes, this will result in a reliance on the wrong kind of tax.
But there's an assumption here (beyond the assumption that a reduction in GST will not result in an increase in consumption that will make up for lost revenues). The assumption is that government spending will remain constant - the only reason a reduction in GST revenue would increase pressure on income tax revenue. If spending decreases, the demand for tax revenue by the government decreases, and the entrenchment of the income tax becomes less of a problem.
Now, the Conservatives may not be prepared to campaign on a dedication to cut government spending - but if that were their plan, it would, I think, undercut the main objection to the 5% policy.
'Down This Road Before'
Can someone please watch the clip of Martin reacting to the Harper GST plan and tell me a) how many times he uses the phrase 'down this road before' and b) what exactly that means.
Incidentally, kudos to the reporter who got Martin to more or less concede that he would never cut the GST. That's not where Martin or the Liberals want to be - but it's the only place Martin can go without conceding the value of the Harper plan. Time for the 1993/2005 comparison ads.
Once again, Stephen Harper commands the daily campaign agenda with his announcement of a Tory plan to cut the GST from 7% to - eventually - 5%.
The announcement is undeniably good campaigning - as Warren Kinsella says: "wow. . . this was policy, not politics, and it was big."
The announcement has also sparked - believe it or not - a policy debate. During a campaign. (What's that, Mrs. Campbell?) Paul Wells quotes an old Andrew Coyne column attacking a similar proposal. But Coyne's criticism seems based largely on the proposition that cutting a consumption tax is a worse way of achieving tax relief than cutting income taxes. That may well be true - but that doesn't necessarily mean that cutting the GST is absolutely, and not just relatively, bad.
Coyne does make (at least) one argument about why cutting a consumption tax would be absolutely bad: it would make it harder to cut income taxes. That's fair - but it's also true of any policy that results in fewer dollars in the government coffer. Is cutting spending bad for the same reason?
The argument would be, I think, that this tax cut will be less effective at spurring economic growth and increasing productivity, because it's not targetted at those sectors which might most directly turn lower taxes into capital spending or investment. I think that's probably true - but here's where the political considerations kick in. Imagine Harper announced a plan to cut taxes for business-owners and corporations. How do you think that would play? A GST cut is populist - and for that reason will be popular. That's not a good enough reason, by itself, to be adopted as Conservative policy, but in the absence of any obvious absolute drawback, I think its popular appeal should at least count as a point in its favor.
In any case, we now have the wonderful spectacle of the two major parties arguing over whether tax cuts should be through the consumption tax or the income tax. And politically, Harper has Martin snookered. Reacting to the Harper announcement (at the 7:15 mark), Martin declared his belief in cutting income taxes for the middle class so that all Canadians could keep more of their paycheck. If the question is which plan benefits 'all Canadians,' there's no way that Harper will - rhetorically - lose.
But the most important word in this entire post is "reacting." Once again, Harper has set the agenda, and everyone else - Martin, Layton, the media, the public - are reacting. The Conservatives continue to control this campaign. That's good.
Canada Held Hostage: Day Two
On the second day of the Christmas campaign the party leaders left Ottawa to begin the process of vote-wooing in earnest.
The big campaign story of the day was Conservative leader Stephen Harper's announcement of his intention to create an Office of Public Prosecutions. The new arm's-length office would be in charge of investigating and pressing charges in all matters of exclusively federal law. Harper said that the current system, whereby the Attorney General - a member of Parliament and Cabinet - decides who to investigate and charge, frustrates transparency and undermines accountability.
In Montreal, Paul Martin announced the candidacy of former astronaut and Canadian Space Agency head Marc Garneau, who will contest the rural riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges. Martin took the opportunity to attack the Bloc Quebecois, whose leader, Gilles Duceppe, was said to have formed a 'pact' with Parti Quebecois leader Andre Boisclair to move Quebec towards another referendum. A fiesty Martin declared that "we're not going to allow the separatists to divide Quebec families."
Although not expressly political, two other stories which broke today could have a significant impact upon the campaign. First, Jean Chretien filed a court action challenging the findings of Justice John Gomery, whose inquiry into the sponsorsip scandal placed consierable blame on the former prime minister's shoulders. Although Chretien maintains that the timing of the action had nothing to do with the current election campaign, the story - which brings Gomery's findings of misconduct by Liberal Party officials in Quebec - can only hurt Paul Martin's attempt to move beyond the scandal.
Second, the RCMP has opened an investigation into whether Finance Minister Ralph Goodale leaked information of a tax cut to Bay Street traders prior to the public announcement of the new policy in order to allow those traders to make a profit off of the news. The Liberal Party has all the scandal that it needs, and the possibility of an ongoing criminal investigation into the conduct of a prominent Liberal MP and his staff will add yet another cloud to the increasingly stormy skies dogging Paul Martin's campaign for re-election.
Finally, the second day of the campaign may become most memorable thanks to the antics of Conservative MP Jason Kenney. Martin speechwriter Scott Feschuk, writing on his campaign weblog, quipped about "socially awkward Omni subscribers." Kenney then issued a press release denouncing Feschuk for disparaging viewers of Toronto's OMNI multicultural television network. Only problem: that wasn't the Omni Feschuk was talking about. Kenney won't soon hear the end of this, and while the episode is unlikely to have any discernible impact on the campaign, it has made Kenney the subject of considerable ribbing - not least from Scott Feschuk.
Blogging the Election
CTV has a link-filled article. I should note that as a blogger I've found CTV to be far and away the best news resource so far - its combination of wire stories and multimedia is a treasure trove (although a better archive of video material would be welcome), and its effort at blogging, although still finding its feet, will hopefully demonstrate to the other networks how the mainstream media can cover an election in the internet age. Good on them.
Know What An Unfriendly Story Looks Like?
It looks like this:
Some think Martin running a democratic deficitOuch. And it goes on from there. Not the friendly reaction Martin needs from the media.
OTTAWA (CP) - Paul Martin has resurrected his "promise made, promise kept'' mantra for the election campaign, but when it comes to one of his biggest promises -- eliminating the so-called democratic deficit -- the chant rings a tad hollow. . . .
"The democratic deficit, where decisions are made by a small group of people, is not on,'' Martin declared as far back as 2002.
"The unfettered powers of appointment enjoyed by a prime minister are too great, from ambassadors and consuls general to regulatory agencies to museum boards and the list goes on. Such authority must be checked by reasonable scrutiny conducted by Parliament in a transparent fashion,'' he said later the same year.
Then, in 2003: "I believe that members of Parliament do have a right to make their voices heard.'' A year later, Martin pledged to "condemn to history the practice and the politics of cronyism." [. . .]
Reviewing the list of Liberals appointed to plum patronage posts, it would appear that `who you know in the PMO' remains the prevailing culture in Martin's Ottawa.
A slew of former Liberal MPs and ministers have gone to their reward: Stan Keyes (consul general in Boston), Allan Rock (United Nations ambassador), Yvon Charbonneau (ambassador to UNESCO), Art Eggleton (Senate), John Harvard (Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba), Sarkis Assadourian (citizenship judge) and Karen Kraft Sloan (ambassador for the environment), to name only a few.
The Canadian Press has an interesting story suggesting that some observers are starting to see some wisdom in Harper's decision to give a straight answer to the same-sex question.
Stephen Harper had two choices in fielding the same-sex marriage questions he knew would come during the federal election campaign -- lance the boil quickly or let the tension drain slowly and painfully.The first SES tracking poll comes out on Friday. Although we won't have anything solid with which to compare, I'd bet that this same-sex 'gaffe' won't have hurt the Tories appreciably - and that it will continue not to hurt them in the long run. (Although I should note that, living in Texas, I lack the immersion in Canadian daily life that is necessary to get a really good sense of the public mood.)
The Conservative leader's decision to dive headlong into the debate mere minutes into the campaign sent many pundits' jaws dropping to the floor, in the belief they had witnessed the first misstep of the eight-week race.
By Wednesday, however, the verdict was less decisive as some concluded it was part of a deliberate, offensive strategy intended to help Harper get the issue out of the way and focus his campaign on the central themes of accountability and taxes.