Wednesday, February 29, 2012

An Utter Waste Of Time

With so many issues flying around, the actual role of Parliament in this scandal is largely lost. For the last two days, I’ve made a point of watching Question Period with some misguided “anticipation”, which should have been betrayed by past experience, but curiously wasn’t this time. I suspect the amount of people viewing Question Period has risen this week- even attendance in the gallery seems to be more than usual- there is a rare buzz, as happens when major issues break. What is instructive I think, the absolutely ABYSMAL show in Question Period, the complete and utter irrelevance of the undertaking, a total waste of time. Fact is, the debate amongst our Parliamentarians, at least during this high profile period, has contributed nothing of value, it’s provided no “light”, it’s given no answers, it has served no purpose that I can ascertain.

Review the transcript from yesterday, the actually sad hilarity is just that much more pointed. The NDP begins with a question about the robocall controversy, the Prime Minister responds with a completely unrelated lecture about floor crossing episode. The NDP leader asks a follow up question, same topic, again the subject is ignored and the same response regarding an issue with no relationship to the question. We then move to another NDP questioner, who is met with a complete dodge, something about telling Elections Canada what they have, delivered in robotic fashion, nothing gleamed or anything of use to anyone. Okay, let’s give the Liberals a crack. Rae rises, asks some pointed questions about the robocall scandal and the Prime Minister responds by discussing vikileaks, unilaterally ignoring the question and delivering his own pre-determined message. And so on, and so on, and so on….. CLICK, what was I thinking, why did I bother, if there is a place on earth devoid of external meaning, surely this is it.

Question Period is supposed to be a means to maintain accountability. The whole concept revolves around the notion of the government answering to the issues of the day, the opposition playing its role in holding them to account, that’s the theory. In practice, an embarrassing display of nonsensical answers, it’s as though two parallel worlds exist that can never collide, just get the charade over with, make it until 3pm and everyone gets out of jail. Should anything of substance actually transpire, this is a seismic event, an anomaly that is really a byproduct of random chance, dumb luck, rather than true intent.

Again, so many angles to this particular robocall story, but one that I take note of, another astonishing example of just what a disservice, what a fundamental failure, this now accepted comedic routine known as Question Period.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

This Fire Has Embers

Ibbitson states the obvious to a certain extent, the Conservative strategy appears to be banking on this robocall storm simply blowing itself out. Hardly a new tactic, the Conservatives are masters at riding out controversy, knowing full well that today's media climate is immediate, attention spans non existent, what looks "huge" today, forgotten tomorrow. The catchword "BREAKING" is almost redundant, because our daily information is forever the now, issues go stale in hours, not days and unless a story is continually "stoked", it simply burns out, we move on to the next instant gratification. As well, a certain boredom tends to take hold, a recurring story tends to have less impact with each successive review.

Vikileaks fits into the above category, in a week nobody will remember the name of Liberal staffer, just another example of unseemly political activity, but largely forgotten. However, if the Conservatives are "banking" on the robocall controversy simply falling off the radar, I submit that strategy will fail. One caveat, given the available options, perhaps the tried and true Conservative reaction (go back and look at In and Out for example, Harper is eerily familiar now, as are the minions) is the least worst option, cornered, what other avenues are available?

I believe this scandal has "legs", there is an almost institutional element that will keep the issue top of mind. There are investigations, legal questions, the very real possibility of a bi-election or two, as well as unforeseen revelations, all congealing to create a scandal which has legs. As well, I note CBC's Jamie Watt segment on what is resonating found this issue is hitting a very widespread nerve, robocalls are resonating, it has burst outside the bubble and generating real world chatter. You could make a compelling argument that most of the previous controversies these Conservatives have confronted haven't truly resonated, which has contributed to the success of the "ragging the puck" strategies. In this instance, early evidence suggests a potentially deeper electoral reaction, which again puts into question whether the Conservatives can successfully ride this issue out.

The courts will decide in April if we will have a least one bi-election in Etobicoke Center, Liberals are looking at other ridings as well. The legal threshold for triggering a bi-election lies with the ability to demonstrate that this robocall behaviour may have impacted the result. There is a very real possibility this stipulation can be met, which would translate into a fascinating development. A bi-election, wherein ethics will be the primary issue, as impetus, no question any vote would become a referendum on this whole unseemly matter. Should a bi-election be called anywhere, it amounts to a guarantee that this scandal will stay front and center, we will have a protracted national debate about political behaviour and our democratic tenets. Voters will have the most concrete avenue available to weigh in, to sanction or punish, emotions will run high.

There are so many angles within this scandal, so much drip, drip, drip, so many formal avenues that will evolve, the Conservatives might find that this time, their formely successful scandal template doesn't bail them out. This fire has embers...

Monday, February 27, 2012

"They're All The Same"

I think you can make a convincing case that Toews personal life in this instance was relevant, given assertions he was making, the record contradicted the disingenuous optics. That said, the whole Vikileaks account was bad form, despite an early follow, I declined to reciprocate, it was irrelevant to the matter at hand and above all it was entirely mean spirited. My instant instinct- which I shared with a couple of people- was that the formal nature of the accounting reeked of professional research and I "bet" it was an opposition party. Sadly, now that the dust settles it turns out it was a Liberal staffer in our research department, which meansour donations were effectively fueling this person's activities, it was done on our time so to speak.

There are some real important lessons learned here, the particular timing sadly perfect in terms of clarity. Here we are, on a day when Parliament returns with a maelstrom circling, and one Liberal has managed to distract attention, throw ourselves into the unseemly soup, rather than Conservatives drowning, a certain shame from our quarter and a general sense that we're all the same. A caveat, by NO means am I elevating this to the level of "robocalls", only an acknowledgement that it's a bit hard to take the high road when you yourself are on the defensive. This day took a shocking turn, and in so doing, took some heat off where it should be and left us scrambling, unnecessarily.

Again, I don't like hard and fast rules, Toews personal life was relevant because of his assertions, like any public account, I feel there is an obligation to assert discrepancies, personal or not. I'd also add I don't feel that is some tortured "rationalization", due to political bent, that conveniently cheapens a legitimate argument. However, the idea that some person in our research bureau was spending his day pumping out sordid details- in reaction to an issue completely detached from the subject matter- it was low brow, it was dirty and it should never be sanctioned by a party or its subordinates.

What we have to realize here, the public doesn't go over all the nuance, that is the realm of the small geekdom class, who forever have trouble realizing the difference. Today, I'm sure many a casual observer is saying "oh, they're all the same", the two matters melt into a indictment of our political masters, we are all sullied. And, this stark reality is why it is very hard for any political party to claim true moral high ground, they are constantly met with hypocritical instance and selective outrages. Today, only adds to the confusion, and unfortunately a mountain meets a molehill and you're left with a murky picture.

I suspect Liberal staffer is a one day affair, this "robocall" issue simply dwarfs in so many ways, fundamentally the two issues aren't even in the same conversation, obviously. However, the real lesson here is, tonight, right now, a lot of people can't tell the difference.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


While we focus on robocalls, there is another story on the political radar, one that is simply an outrageous ABUSE of power, that puts the impartiality of the military into question:
Defence Minister Peter MacKay almost ran from a military conference Friday morning as he dodged questions about emails that suggest military personnel were enlisted to help turn the tables on the opposition after revelations MacKay used a search-and-rescue helicopter during a fishing trip in 2010.

The emails show that on Sept. 22, one day after a TV report that MacKay had used a Cormorant helicopter to be taken from a private fishing lodge near Gander, N.L., military officials began searching for instances of opposition members using military aircraft.

This revelation demands an investigation, MacKay has effectively pimped out the military to do opp research on a political rival. In so doing, MacKay has made the Canadian military an arm of the Conservative Party, a simply astounding development. It is no wonder MacKay ran from reporters, because there is no credible way to reconcile this political interference, this behaviour crosses important lines.

No comment from Gen. Walter Natynczyk is simply not good enough, the military should be conducting its own investigation, because ultimately this tarnishes public perception. Is this my Canadian military, or are my tax dollars being abused to further a political party's interests? The military didn't initiate the MacKay story, journalists did, and yet the "counter" seems to be entirely political in scope, people otherwise invested in military matters scanning records looking for DIRT on a Liberal MP. The opposition isn't supposed to be the "enemy" that the military needs to expose, but effectively, here, they've taken a political side, they've become an active player and this represents an incredibly dangerous precedent.

MacKay can't run forever, this story deserves further attention.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Harper's "Climate"

There are many underlying objective truths that will hopefully remain in tact, as we enter the SPIN dome on the robocall question. No reasonable observer would dispute that these Conservatives have pushed the boundaries of acceptable political behaviour, a "nastiness" attached to the process that Canadian politics hasn't seen, at least in terms of frequency. The tone of the political debate has soured, the way people are attacked has intensified, the low road is now met with almost surrendering shrugs, we've become acclimatised to unseemly tactics.

Rewind a few scant months ago, and you'll see a DESPICABLE misinformation campaign in Irwin Cotler's riding. The formal Conservative arm will distance itself from the robocall question, but here we had a SANCTIONED campaign, with the sole aim of DECEIVING voters. You'll also recall when "outed", all we received from Harper Conservatives was bizarre rationalizations, a "run out the clock" strategy and the issue died, just another fluffed off example of dirty politics. I mention this example, in light of Harper's selective outrage yesterday and PLEDGE to find these unethical individuals and make them PAY! In reality, whether it is found to be a rogue partisan in this most recent instance, it really is the type of behaviour akin to formal war room strategy, as the Cotler example revealed in NAKED fashion.

I've followed the American primary system for a long, long time, and I believe this an objective truth: when it comes to nastiness, dirty tactics, a poisoned well, NOBODY does it better than the Republicans, the Democrats are amateurs compared to the cesspool that occurs when the GOP picks a standard bearer. Sure, you can highlight a particular example here and there for partisan counter, but when you pull back and observe the landscape in totality with any fairness, only a die hard bias would dispute a stronger correlation between conservatism and scumbag tactics. I mention this reality because much of the Conservative thrust is imported philosophy, there has been a concerted effort to adopt certain approaches. This robocall story reeks of American style politics, that type of nonsense is commonplace within their system, nobody bats an eye, it's accepted as part of the game.

John Ibbitson piece today touches on an similar theme:
It could take many months to get to the bottom of the case of alleged voter suppression during the last election. The larger question, though, is whether the Conservatives’ hard-ball tactics are encouraging some people to cheat.

If they are, then the Tories bear a measure of responsibility, even if they weren’t complicit in any unethical or illegal acts...

And they may have instilled such an intensely partisan anything-you-can-get-away-with mentality among their campaign workers that one or more of them concluded it would be okay to cross the line of legality.

Plenty of outrage last week at the idiot that started a twitter account and bashed Vic Toews. This individual had sullied our entire political process, to never recover, a sad indictment of eroding morality and standards in Canadian politics. Perhaps true, but let's hope the same outrage incorporates the wider climate we currently operate in, who sets the tone, who has the most power to change or elevate, who more times than not is at the center of low brow tactics, who sits in first class on Air Douche. See the forest from the trees, that's where enlightenment lies, that's where you start ascertaining and drilling down to find underlying realities.

I could care less if we find the firm tether in this particular instance that leads right to the official Conservative war room. What's truly instructive here is very much the political climate that these "hard ball" Conservatives have brought to Ottawa, how they do politics, this end justifies the means mentality. More concerning, a successful template, these Conservatives sit with a majority, formal affirmation of a strategy which others will surely adopt, in the name of perceived success. When we wake up one day and see little contrast between the way we do politics here, and how they do it in South Carolina, just remember who were the Right Honourable's when the gutter became the norm, because it isn't a coincidence.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Weed As A Winning Wedge

From my perspective, there was a lot of misguided "scoffing" when the Liberals emerged from their Convention advocating marijuana be legalized. The passage was extrapolated into an indictment of not having compelling polices on issues that "really matter", instead left to champion some quirky side issue that is clearly not top of mind for Canadians. Quite true, I've yet to see "marijuana legalization" on any issue priority poll, although the larger topic of crime does register. Let's take it as a given that Liberals need a whole host of compelling policy positions on the economic, health care, etc to get back into the good graces with Canadian voters. As well, let's not be cynical about a particular policy that can contribute to the wider dialogue, one that can act as distinct wedge and provide a much needed contrast on the crime issue.

If you're paying attention, the Liberals gambit on marijuana is quickly becoming mainstream opinion, rather than some "far out" proposition, it seems nothing more than part of a more general opinion. Last week four former British Columbia attorney generals came out in favour of reforming our marijuana laws. As well, border states like Washington will be voting on marijuana laws this fall, a potentially huge decision, given the concerns about American reaction to potential Canadian reform. Today, more evidence of a changing climate, U.S officials warn the Conservatives on failed drug policies:

A high-profile group of current and former U.S. law enforcement officials has written to the Conservative government with a surprising message: Take it from us, the war on drugs has been a “costly failure.”

The officials are urging Canada to reconsider mandatory minimum sentences for “minor” marijuana offences under its “tough-on-crime bill” and say a better approach would be to legalize marijuana under a policy of taxation and regulation.

“We are … extremely concerned that Canada is implementing mandatory minimum sentencing legislation for minor marijuana-related offences similar to those that have been such costly failures in the United States,” their letter reads. “These policies have bankrupted state budgets as limited tax dollars pay to imprison non-violent drug offenders at record rates instead of programs that can actually improve community safety.”

The letter was signed by more than two dozen current and former judges, police officers, special agents, drug investigators and other members of the advocacy group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

I would argue there is a very effective vein to be tapped here, the Liberals can pivot off the Conservative embrace of FAILED American style approaches to drugs and offer a convincing alternative, marijuana legalization the linchpin. There is an emerging consensus that current approaches to drugs are a complete "bust", the Conservative view outdated and regressive. There are economic arguments as well, the subject of cost, the underground economy, once you accept inevitability, even the notion of lost revenues for preferred inputs.

It is not trivial that more and more opinion is coming from south of the border questioning the Conservative approach to drugs. I would guess any Canadian polling on the Americans "war on drugs" would agree with the idea of complete failure, which again speaks to the soundness in challenging that viewpoint. The Conservatives may use crime as an effective wedge to curry favour, but on the topic of the "war on drugs" there is a vulnerability, particularly when we speak of "importing" failed policies. The fact American states are rethinking their view on marijuana undercuts the historical fear of retributions, should Canada look at marijuana in a progressive way, the old caveats are subsiding. American opinion is changing, as are many state laws, the climate is much more receptive.

I don't believe advocating marijuana legalization can be the singular issue which captivates Canadians and returns the Liberals to the electoral promised land. That said, a sound house is made up of bricks, each plays a structural role that gives overall identity and form. When you speak of winning "coalitions" of voters, I would submit marijuana legalization can play a contributing role, rather than dismiss, a look at the emerging landscape shows an idea who's time has come and will find increasingly useful allies moving forward.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Oilsands And Selective "Upsides"

If you're a proponent of the oilsands, your central argument is obviously the economic upside. Listen to any sales job, and immediately you hear how the oilsands don't just benefit Alberta, but the entire country, armed with incredible statistics to show how many jobs are tied to this development, equalization payments, etc. Perhaps this a central Canada-centric point of view, but if you factor in all the various dynamics at play, one wonders if this supposed benefit is really as enticing as advertised.

With the emergence of the oilsands, our dollar is more than ever simply an extension of oil prices, oil goes up, our dollar rises, oil drops, in tow as well, a very simple casual relationship that becomes more pronounced over time. Higher oil prices obviously benefit the oil patch- particularly relatively high cost oilsand production- but because the dollar is so closely tied to this price, there is an almost inverse reality at play that harms other economies. Present day Ontario highlights the disparity, a province that relies on manufacturing is heavily dependent on the standing of our dollar. When you factor in all the jobs lost due to reduced competitiveness as a function of our energy related dollar, the flowery statistics coming out of the oilpatch are somewhat disingenuous. "All the jobs" the oilsands bring to Ontario through supposed supply of equipment is offset by an artificially inflated dollar that is too closely tied to one commodity. In fact, I'm hard pressed to really see a net benefit overall for a place like Ontario, if anything erosion as a function of the counter "emergence" out west.

There seems to be this kneejerk economic argument attached to the oilsands, despite contradictory evidence that doesn't support the optimism. For instance, this argument that a higher dollar has some inherent advantage for consumers- again the overly simplistic theoretical economist arguments apply- we should see cheaper products, that's the payoff! Instead, and our Finance Minister agrees in "frustrated" fashion, the promised cheaper goods as a function of the dollar haven't manifested, the disparity between the border pronounced, consistent, stubborn, with no signs of the promised benefits. As well, the notion of buying cheaper equipment from the Americans is a bit suspect, when one considers manufactures are closing up shop due to that very same dollar related dynamic, it's a complicated picture trying to ascertain true benefit in totality.

The energy sector is crucial to the economies for many jurisdictions. However, in the "federal" sense, when one takes the country as a whole, the supposed "slam dunk" upside is less obvious. Yes, more equalization payments from one quarter, but offset by alarming "have not" status elsewhere, again an almost tug of war reality as it currently stands. Some provinces saddled with debt, others with surplus, some with no taxes, others with high taxes, the gulf is widening and one wonders how that will affect this federation moving forward, because the notions of equal opportunity and distribution of resources are in question. A "regional" perspective I know...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Trust The Media

Some really fascinating discussions coming out of the whole Vic Toews story. What we know or don't know, what is discussed or buried, seems to boil down to judgement calls, ethical considerations, standards, a whole series of arbitrary decisions based on a pre-determined set of values, which are particular and closed in development. The Canadian public has never voted on, or formulated any rules governing journalism, that is left to publications and a subjective standard which has developed based on this closed discussion. Essentially, we are left to "trust the media", what information you are privy to is decided by a group of people who have no outside validation, the public simply has no voice in the thought process, the decisions, we only enter the equation after the fact, commenting on what has been deemed of use to us.

In my own formal training, we were taught about sourcing and how the observer attempts to ascertain truth, even though the actor is inherently biased- the lens never clear- the attempt of a flawed actor to accurately disseminate an objective reality. The conclusion of the philosophical exercise, there is no "idealist school" in the practical realm, any writer, researcher that delves into an topic will be impacted by personal experience and bias, it will "lead" the observer, he/she can only hope to minimize bias, but never fully eliminate it.

I do trust in certain journalists, no problem giving them certain latitude in weighing very complex decisions and issues, when determining "newsworthy". However, individual exceptions aside, that is really irrelevant to the wider discussion of entrusting an entire medium with "gatekeeper" status. As Stephen Maher points out in his balanced column, the press is not a "monolith", and he lists various political slants to support the diversity. But, therein lies the rub, there is no "standard" that applies equally throughout the medium, subjectivity again reigns supreme, rendering any sense of duty or standard a purely isolated consideration.

I don't trust the National Post editorial board to give me the straight goods, just as a right winger may be uncomfortable with the Toronto Star deciding what "deserves" consideration. If you review any polling done in the last decade, you'll see overwhelming opinion from the public that reveals serious, pervasive DISTRUST of the media, which is a learned reality. Given this circumstance, there is something refreshing and revolutionary, democratic and inclusive, about the role of social media to breakthrough the "arbiter" role, to pierce an almost star chamber editorial board thought process, a world where it's all just puked out and THEN we all participate in moral judgement, rejecting or accepting, highlighting or ignoring, sanctioning or scorn. What is wrong with empowering everyone, is it really any different than all the notions we champion about our democracy? The alternative is a closed room, made of individuals none of us have give license, arbitrarily deciding what is fit for our consumption, what is "important". Anything less than full disclosure amounts to dictation, it just does, that's the nature of the relationship, apart from after the fact inputs, which are reactive rather than participatory.

Perhaps it's time for "in camera" editorial boards, and when people say "but we're not elected", I say "exactly". I didn't follow Vikileaks30, others did, that's how it should work in a truly interactive media world.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Trudeau: Crazy Like A Fox?

Justin Trudeau is getting ripped for his admittedly reckless comments, but I'm not sure the visceral reactions are accurately digesting the potential political ramifications. Trudeau is done as a political force, Trudeau is narcissistic, a lightweight, immature, needlessly theatrical, the pile on relentless. However, woven with the "outrage", some opinion, mostly Quebec-centric that picks up on perhaps the longer term impact of Trudeau's outburst.

I've argued for some time, the Liberals need to update their presentation to Quebecers. This belief doesn't abandon former stances, but the Liberals are perpetually stuck in outdated dichotomy that lacks any evolution. It could just be that Trudeau's apparent departure from traditional Liberal stances might register as a breath of fresh air. Truth be told, the old hardcore federalist "option" that Liberals have always played in Quebec appeals to an ever narrowing pool of voters. Quebec society is moving beyond the distinct lines that dominated the debate during Trudeau's fathers era. The recent NDP surge, while built on a singular persona, was also underpinned by a nuanced dance between the old federalist/separatist distinctions. Rather than "out there", Trudeau's recent musings might also simply serve as more of a mirror of current perceptions and realities, a bit of a weather vein.

There has been a great misconception in English Canada. With sovereignty numbers waning- separatism on the backburner- we've all assumed that the federation is in relatively good shape. The collapse of the Bloc only adds to this perception, but a look with any depth, reveals more malaise, alienation and disconnect than some grand endorsement of the status quo. Hebert's column touches on the state of things in Quebec, how this Harper government has fostered a disconnect, all is not well, unless withdrawal is a positive. Trudeau goes too far of course, but the sentiment he espouses isn't off side, rare or radical, in fact I suspect he's resonating quite well with mainstream Quebec society.

This may be an odd characterization, but Trudeau may have moved the ground in Quebec and made the Liberals "cool again". Beneath the unfortunate threatening language, opinions that speak to Quebecers values, what they stand for, Trudeau is championing those sensibilities. There is nothing offensive in the comments to Quebecers, if anything Trudeau is merely expressing a widely held opinion about the Harper government and how deep the chasm that has developed. Never has a federal government been so completely marginalized in Quebec, a state that begs for an alternative and we've seen the manifestations.

Trudeau was crude and unsophisticated, his words poorly chosen, but I'm not sure what most are fixating on truly captures the entire tone and how that may resonate. In English Canada, Trudeau's comments a blip on the screen, I fail to see any "legs". However, in Quebec, Trudeau may have modernized the Liberal view, not the official party line, but a sense that the conversation is current. We can pontificate how we feel Quebecers should view the federation, but that never understand how they DO view the federation, so let's be careful in assuming or declaring someone "dead" due to pointed musings. If anything, we may just look back on this entire Trudeau maelstrom as freshening up the Liberal brand in Quebec, because at the core Justin has a receptive audience in terms of frustration.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The iAnkleBracelet

If the Conservatives "lawful access" legislation passes, we will live in a world wherein your cell phone becomes an ankle bracelet. What a study in contradictions these Conservatives, pounding the table about "intrusive" SURVEYS, filling out a form to hold a gun, but having no issue with tracking the citizenry without any CHECKS, big brother at its worst. This legislation is one scary proposition, it dismisses the legal tenets that exist in the larger society. Apparently, when it comes to online activity, law enforcement can act with complete impunity, worse still, nobody outside of that organ has any knowledge of activity. The Conservative bill will sanction a regime which just begs for abuse, at the expense of freedom and privacy.

Everyone wants to catch pedophiles, everyone wants police to have all available tools to assist them in pursuit of criminals. However, law enforcement must also demonstrate a rationale for said pursuits, they must present a reason for a search warrant, they can't just break into your home for example without basis. Interesting that our national embarrassment that is Vic Toews argues the need for this legislation to catch child pornographers when just two weeks ago, law enforcement were highlighting advanced techniques in carrying out one of the biggest busts in Canadian history. In other words, law enforcement can already access IP's, locations, HONE in on criminals using technology and the LAWS already ON THE BOOKS, the system works. That the government is left to nonsensical hyperbole a testament to the shallow logic behind their bill, when confronted with reasonable questions, we receive outlandish accusation.

Whatever this legislation attempts to confront or accomplish, it fails miserably as it stamps all over individual rights and ignores the well established legal precedents in the "real world". To set this debate up as "with law enforcement or against" does a disservice to genuine concerns, thoughtful extensions, it doesn't incorporate the primary notion that checks and balances are the cornerstone of our entire system. Law enforcement must provide evidence or inclinations or tips or some logic to a independent arbitrator who can decide if surveillance is warranted, we can't live in a world where people operate without "monitoring" themselves. The current state just didn't materialize, it is a learned system, because people do abuse, people do act unethically, without a balance, the inevitable always happens, history is unequivocal in this regard.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Vic Toews Poll

In light of Vic Toews comments today, I thought a poll might be in order to solicite some opinion:

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Speaking Of "Boring"

What's your definition of boring, bland, yawn inducing? For myself it's predictability above all else. From a purely partisan perspective, I suppose this now on going media categorization of the NDP leadership race as "boring" is a welcome frame, but really it does a disservice to the wider political climate. What is more maddening, the recurring frame shows no relationship to reality, because every NDP debate has been JAM packed, NDP membership signups are impressive, the NDP were forced to MOVE their convention site to a BIGGER location because SO many people are coming. All the empirical cues point to a rank and file engaged, real world excitement and yet everyday we have to endure this manufactured frame that this race is boring everyone to tears. Please point to me the last internal party leadership race that captured the imagination of the wider Canadian population? Never happens, and if that's the self determined benchmark, it's a false standard.

Students of Canadian politics will note a reoccurring lament that our political discourse is deteriorating, politicians don't talk substance, they hurl insults, places like Question Period have become unseemly exercises, all "theater", all "show". And yet, a recent effort to raise the level of discourse, stop the cat calls, was met with "this is boring", "it's too nice in here", the same profession which clamors for high brow discourse couldn't handle civility. And herein lies the rub, the inherent contradiction, our media need a "story", without a juicy angle, certain intrigue, sensational elements, there is no compelling narrative. A deeper look reveals that we the "client" are simply receiving what we appeal to, the audience is the final arbitrator and we eat up the fluff and bombast, at the expense of serious discourse. In other words, blame is a complicated discussion, so any observation isn't really an indictment, just a recognition of the state of things. We live in a world wherein scribes lament the lack of focus on serious issues, the "tone" of our discourse and yet when confronted with said want, they react with a yawn and demand some sizzle.

If the NDP are playing "nice" with each other, what is wrong with that, why is that "boring"? Does that dynamic come with a lack of compelling ideas put forth? No, we have a Brian Topp who completely wants to redo our approach to taxes in a fundamental way. We have a Nathan Cullen proposing a very bold electoral arrangement that would alter the political landscape in truly remarkable fashion. We have Thomas Mulcair attempting to move the NDP towards the center, should he win, the direction of that party will profoundly change. In other words, there is much to chew on within this race, real philosophical questions, that go beyond "knockout" punches and acrimony. I predict we will start to see more jostling as this race reaches crescendo, but that's not the point, nor is that some sort of imperative as the "boring" cries imply.

If nobody was showing up to the debates, if membership drives were pedestrian, if this convention was poorly attended, if there were no serious proposals on the table, these type of measures could support a "boring" argument. However, as it stands, "boring" looks nothing more than a perceived lack of friction, required ingredient for a "story", but of no relevance to what constitutes a successful leadership process.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Caterpillar Highlights Failed Policies

The Caterpillar fiasco is another example of the failed relationship between government, corporations and community. Rather than get lost in the minutiae of the Caterpillar story, a wide angle lens reveals a disturbing picture of corporate greed, negotiating in bad faith, the free market economy at its absolute worst. We can debate certain points all day, but the notion of a company making record profits, upper management receiving record pay contrasted with demanding employees take a 50% wage cut, demonstrates obscene disconnect. This wasn't a GM or Chrysler- companies teetering on extinction require deep worker sacrifice- this is a company flooded with cash, a historic high water mark, running on all cylinders, giving the SHAFT to the people who contributed to its success.

The federal and provincial government have assisted Caterpillar, not the least of which corporate taxcuts. The wider story, corporate taxes have failed to deliver as advertised, chose your empirical measure, one is hard pressed to justify, left to future theoretical proclamation. Perhaps the Caterpillar story highlights the need to have "strings attached" to government initiatives which benefit corporate Canada. Perhaps corporate taxcuts require certain criteria to qualify, this type of regime is quite common with other government allocations. Rather than a blank check scenario, wherein government is left to HOPE, money should be tied to commitments, thresholds, tax breaks a function of a credible plan to incorporate those savings.

Is it so offensive to say to Corporation A, you can qualify for a certain corporate tax rate if you demonstrate reinvestments, if you can show productivity gains, if you address employment? Should said corporation show no interest in meeting certain thresholds, they simply don't qualify for the "break" and they lose the opportunity to redeploy DIRECTED capital within their organization. Given all these stipulations still ADVANCE corporate SELF INTEREST, where is the downside to said corporation, within a qualification system? Again, review many, many government programs and you will see merit based systems, you will see money doled out if certain requirements are met, quite common, quite fair as well.

Caterpillar represents a scenario where everyone except the corporation has acted in "good faith". Government has assisted, helping that corporation operate in a more healthy business climate. The employees have assisted, helping to make the corporation incredibly profitable, part of the success no question. Caterpillar in turn has said, thanks for the public money, the tax breaks, thanks for making quality product employee, but we're out of here, despite RECORD profits, despite a JUGGERNAUT company with more cash than it can spend, we flip you the BIRD. This whole story highlights the desperate need for corporate responsibility, the missing variable in this entire equation.

The Caterpillar example is sensational, but it is also symptomatic of a larger problem with the way governments approach corporate "citizens". The time has come for "show me" regimes, wherein corporations who want the benefits of government measures must demonstrate where that money will be redeployed, provide detailed plans to show how corporate taxes will benefit the company, as well as achieve the benefits these measures were intended to provide. Rather than Jim Flaherty expressing "frustration" that corporations aren't reinvesting as hoped, we have concrete assurances tied to certain tax rates. A strings attached system would garner the wanted reinvestment, employment, productivity, because there is still self interest, the company still benefits through compliance, the alternative is less attractive. It's time for society to take back the reigns, rather than rely on incapable entities to do the right thing, we should leverage some control, in a way that allows benefit, but also brings responsibility.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Liberals Close Fundraising Gap

With the year end fundraising figures out for all the parties, encouraging signs for the Liberal Party in particular. The Conservatives still FAR outpace everyone, but the gap is narrowing and the Liberals are showing peculiar resilience, given recent electoral manifestations. As an aside, those scoffing at any fundraising "uptick" would be the same people jumping all over any "setback" as evidence of looming death, a revealing reality. There is something to be said for a third party easily besting the Official Opposition, as well as increasing donors, given perceptions.

It wasn't that long ago that the Conservatives regularly had 4X the fundraising of the Liberals, ditto for the amount of donors. This latest quarter shows the closest comparison to date, Liberals actually raised 66% of the Conservative tally, 71% on the donor front:
Conservatives: 4,100,154.71 raised
Liberals: 2,716,969.86 raised
NDP: 1,613,434.61 raised

Conservatives: 35,747 donors
Liberals: 25,847 donors
NDP: 17,975 donors

Numbers that would give Peter C. Newman pause.

The above figures represents the narrowest fundraising gap we've seen in many years, while the Conservatives are still well out front, the Liberals are beginning to operate in the same area code. If we go back to the same quarter last year, we see the Conservatives have dropped 6000 donors and 1.1 million raised. The Liberals are up almost 6000 donors and more than 500000 thousand. NDP fundraising is flat year to year, number of donors up slightly.

With political fundraising subsidies being phased out, obviously the Liberals have a steep climb ahead. However, it is important to remember the Conservatives received the most money from this system, further amplifying the disparity. Under the above numbers as sole source of party income, this disparity is actually lessened, relative to the past.

The Liberals are starting to build a consistent fundraising base, the Victory Fund is creating a steady donor stream. Liberals have more than doubled their fundraising from last quarter, they've added 8000 donors, and they've once again easily outpaced the Official Opposition once again. Add in the narrowing gap with the Conservatives, and it's a relatively optimistic scenario, the trends are encouraging.

There is a sense that Liberals have the slightest of breeze in their sails, the fundraising numbers do nothing to detract from that sentiment, in fact I'm putting the figures in the "Not Too Shabby Zombies" folder. Long way to go, but we've come some distance as well.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The Dope On Marijuana

Perhaps more interesting than the Liberals- at least their assembled delegates- advocating legalization of marijuana, has been the reaction to said passage. I sense some hostility, revolving around the notion that Liberals are misguided to highlight this issue, when so many other "top of mind" concerns exist with the electorate. That's your big idea Liberals, legalizing pot, really, that's all you've come up with? Fair in one sense, last time I checked legalizing pot doesn't register on the "top issues" front. However, rather than elevate this proposal to centerpiece status, why not look at it as merely a potential plank within a larger narrative, because the position does have tentacles.

Liberals will never best Conservatives on the "tough on crime" question, that's a bread and butter issue for their side. Liberals never win when put in reactive mode, they simply won't persuade voters trying to mirror Conservative approaches. It is here that marijuana legalization provides a clear stepping off point, rather than reacting to Conservative offensives, misinformations, we offer a decidedly different approach, one that actually has some popular appeal. The entire crime question will be debated on this point, on ground chosen by Liberals, this would be the lightning rod question. This debate puts down a clear Liberal marker, we say the war on drugs has failed and here's an alternative direction that addresses that failure in progressive fashion.

In addition, there is an economic argument to be made, one that attempts to take money out of the hands of criminals, into the hands of government, for the betterment of the citizenry. We are not talking about chump change, tax revenue in the billions, we can pivot off this legalization in a positive way. I would argue that marijuana taxation revenue be redirected into drug education campaigns, expenditures to focus on true scourges like crystal meth, rather than a tax grab, demonstrate how this additional money can still assist in dealing with drug related problems. With this type of proposal, you somewhat blunt "condone" criticism, because you use these additional revenues to attack certain problems. Use the tax revenue to further educate on the dangers of drugs, that avenue addresses society validating drug use through legalization. We accept that marijuana is here to stay, you can either continue with the futility approach or accept reality and use the industry to allow for greater focus on other drugs, rehab programs, education, etc. I see a fleshed out new tax revenue allocation proposal as a compelling pivot to completely reset our overall approach.

Philosophically, there is also a "liberty" argument to be made, this issue transfers responsibility to the individual, a notion which clearly has appeal within certain subsets. I think Liberals will be surprised who gets "turned on" by the legalization argument, rather than a sideline distraction, it is a motivating factor that shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. I predict a candidate for Liberal leadership(assuming we actually have a race, not a coronation)waves this legalization flag and in so doing shakes up the race on the "supporter" front. Legalization proponents from all corners would have little hesitation becoming supporters, I guarantee a few motivated individuals could sign up impressive numbers under this signature banner.

Rather than some trivial proposal that fails to address the real concerns of Canadians, I see this marijuana legalization idea as ONE starting off point that can bring true differentiation, as well as add fresh perspectives to an already well defined political entity. Yes, Liberals must craft a credible economic argument, ditto for health care, pensions, taxation, the deficit, etc, etc. Acknowledging this obvious fact doesn't mean the legalization question is a distraction or be abandoned, in fact it can be a demographic compliment that weaves within a greater, coherent direction. I see potentially fascinating days ahead...