Friday, June 27, 2008

The Death Of A False Narrative?

Last night, two separate pundits on the At Issue panel made reference to Stephen Harper's supposed reputation as a tactical genius. The "checkers vs chess" narrative that had become the common assumption of most in the media class. It was interesting to hear more voices now questioning that narrative, and it seems to me the media is finally starting to re-examine the fallacy of believing that Stephen Harper is always one step ahead, his motives mysterious recipes of well thought out strategy.

What everyone is starting to realize, a theme which many of us have stated for some time, whenever confronted with the undeserved adjectives, Stephen Harper and his team are really quite ordinary. The Harper approach is really quite predictable, quite pedestrian in terms of forethought, really more reactionary than visionary. Above all else, Harper really came to power more as function of right time/right place, rather than some juggernaut, that laid waste to less capable opponents. I would submit, all Harper had to do was stay out the way, ride the wave of change (more people cited this desire in voting preference than any affinity to the Conservative program) and reap the benefits. It amazed me that the media heaped such praise, considering the fragile nature of his mandate, despite the optimal conditions. But, it was here that the narrative began to cement itself, and the media has reinforced it every since.

This isn't to say Harper is inept, or that the Conservatives don't have talented people, but given where we are now, it is clear that the attributes were clearly overstated. For his first year in office, Harper faced a Liberal Party without a leader, completely retooling, completely off balance. It doesn't take much exceptional ism to carry the day in that environment, certainly nothing of the stuff of "legend". In the aftermath of the Liberal convention, the Conservatives probably scored their biggest tactical victory, pre-defining Dion before he could define himself. All the other "out flanking" maneuvers since have really been more a by-product of Liberal fear, rather than any brilliance. In other words, given the circumstance, you didn't need much skill to navigate the hyper-friendly terrain.

The Harper narrative first started to get a second look, once he was actually tested, once events occurred which were not scripted, we saw the "team" react to the unexpected. Easy to sit back and map strategy on a 2 dimensional board, quite different to gauge your aptitude when you are forced to react on the fly. It was here, when surprise entered the equation that the Harper "brilliance" began to unravel. The economy starts to falter, these geniuses think it would be a good idea to go after a newly re-elected Premier in the most populous province. A raid occurs at Conservative headquarters, and these brainiacs react like rank amateurs, hurling gasoline on the fire at every turn. Cadman, Bernier, the CWB, etc... No progress in Quebec, no progress with ethnics, no progress with urban voters, no progress with women, stuck, nowhere, all their lofty plans have borne little fruit.

The final nail, and this is where the media seems to have realized, the reaction to this Green Shift. Only a Conservative partisan could argue that their reaction has been effective, even people who hate the proposal also agree that Harper has fumbled to date. What has happened, another narrative has cemented, one less flattering, that of a mean-spirited, low brow, juvenile approach to every issue, a situation of going to that well once to often. Is it really a testament to strategic aptitude, that you have only one response for every issue that confronts you, you always offer the same negativity that insults people's intellects?

It would now seem that the mirage has evaporated, Harper and company might be able, but they are far from something anyone should fear. As a matter of fact, in many respects, the Conservatives are politically "tone deaf", they don't seem to understand what is required to expand their support, what they need to do to improve their image. The inability to recognize their own weaknesses, to just forge ahead with simplistic arrogance, is nothing to admire. It is encouraging to see that the media is finally readjusting how they view Harper and his actions. R.I.P "The Master Strategist".

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Harmonize

Nothing particularly earth shattering in Dion pledging to "harmonize" his carbon plan with British Columbia, but it is noteworthy that he and Campbell have spoken:
Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion is confident that he can “harmonize” his carbon tax plan with that of British Columbia.

Speaking with The Globe and Mail's editorial board Thursday, Mr. Dion said he and B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell have the same goals.

“We want a strong economy for British Columbia and a strong fight against climate change. So the two governments will harmonize what they are doing in order to have maximum results on the two fronts in British Columbia,” he said.

Mark Dunn, a spokesman for Mr. Dion, said Thursday that both leaders and their respective offices have already spoken about the two carbon tax plans.

Mr. Dion will be in the province later this summer to discuss it further, although no date has been set.

End Of Parliament Awards

Susan Delacourt previews the "At Issue" end of session roundtable. Beyond the obvious answers, here are my candidates:

BEST MOMENT

Watching Pierre Poilievre sheepishly apologize for his aborginal slurs, his usual smirk no where to be seen. How can that be the best moment? Simple. To my mind, Pierre represents all that is unseemly about our political environment. A cheap shot artist, a gross manipulator and downright disingenious advocate. Pierre was on the rise, further validating his gutter style, another bad omen moving forward. Having the poodle neutered, banished to the sidelines, is a net positive for the tone of any debate. Any roundtable, or MP slot, without Pierre is a bonus, the last thing Canadian needs is people like Poilievre front and center.

WORST MOMENT

Harper suing the Liberal Party of Canada. Harper's bully tactics, his "libel chill" represents a naked attempt to stifle discussion. How any party with as vile a website as the Conservatives can have the audacity to cry foul escapes me, but hypocrisy seems a core tenet with this bunch. The real kicker, Harper never did explain what was on that tape, preferring as James Travers said "to hide behind the skirt of the legal system".

MOST OVERRATED

Peter Van Loan. Is Peter so charismatic, such a tremendous orator and generally compelling figure, that he deserves such disporportionate stature in this government? More a testament to a thin bench, Van Loan has hardly shone in his role as chief apologist, his limp, repetitive answers haven't exactly benefited the Conservative cause. Only within this ordinary bunch, could such an average MP rise to be essentially Deputy PM.

MOST UNDERRATED

Dominic LeBlanc. Not sure if Dominic is underrated or not, but he was quite effective this session, on various tasks. Dominic comes across as thoughtful, intelligent and calm, a growing asset for the Liberals. Someone to watch in the future, could one day become a key minister.


You?

Interesting B.C. Poll

If you want to see a pseudo "canary in the coalmine" scenario, it is pretty interesting to see any polling coming out of British Columbia. The Mustel Group has released a new poll of the province, that shows Campbell paying little political price so far, despite British Columbians ranking "rising gas" as their chief concern:
A recent Mustel Group poll (taken June 9-19th ) among 750 BC residents shows that for the first time ever,
concern about fuel costs surpasses concern about the environment and other key issues such as health care
and the economy. When asked “What is the most important issue facing British Columbia today?” increasing
cost of fuel tops the list, with Metro Vancouver residents as concerned as those living in rural areas.

In the past poll, fuel costs were cited by a scant 3%, this time around 18%, marginally ahead of health care and the environment. One would think that Campbell would pay a price, considering his carbon plan piles on even more cost. Not really:
Libs 47%
NDP 37%
Green 14%

No statistical change for the Libs since the last poll, although the NDP do rise 6%, the Greens down 3%. To keep that in context though, the last poll looks a bit of an anomaly for the NDP, because they are now basically back where they were in a February and November offering respectively, the Greens actually up one from February. In other words, apart from some statistical noise, hard to argue any worrying trends for Campbell.

This fact is supported in the approval numbers, which sees Campbell's numbers very consistent with past findings, the same for the NDP's James. I suppose you could argue some erosion, but if you look at the February poll, Campbell is actually up, so it's playing with the numbers, the trends aren't significant.

This is the second poll I've seen that shows Campbell fairing pretty well, despite serious concerns about taxes and gas prices. Those with their own agenda will point to "you just wait until", or "Dion isn't Campbell", but given the fact that this poll shows gas price concern as the number one issue with British Columbians, you would expect to see Campbell taking a big hit right now, given his policies. On balance, I see this poll as another for the "good sign" column.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What Will Gordon Campbell Do?

I haven't really heard much comment about the Liberal Green Shift from B.C's Gordon Campbell. The two plans are different, but the thrust is the same. I wonder how Campbell will react to being the indirect target of the Conservatives smear campaign:
The federal Conservatives are launching attack ads in B.C. tomorrow against federal Liberal Leader Stephane Dion's carbon tax.

The ads could also cause collateral damage for Premier Gordon Campbell, just days before B.C.'s new carbon tax takes effect.

"Dion Tax Trick" ads will blitz the airwaves on radio stations in the Lower Mainland and the Interior.

Tory strategists say it's the most expensive non-election ad-buy in B.C. for years, going into six-figure numbers, and could last up to three months.

The campaign will also feature public events at which people will wear bright yellow T-shirts with the slogans "The Dion Tax Trick" or "Dion's Tax on Everything."

I suppose the good news for Campbell, it's not like the ads are particularly effective, not to mention the geeky yellow shirt routine. That said, this is a huge media buy, and no matter the specifics, Campbell is likely to feel the heat. Essentially, Campbell will defend his plan, which indirectly validates the Liberal plan, putting him on a collision course with the Conservatives low road campaign. Campbell apparently has cordial relations with Harper, and this was evidenced by the Harper government's hypocritical initial reaction to B.C's carbon tax, but surely this puts a strain on things.

Campbell has as much as Dion to lose, one would think we see an informal alliance build over time, if we do see months of negative ads. Nothing overt, but an agreement, based on mutual self interest, since both are targets, regardless of who is characterized as the "trickster". It will be entirely fascinating to watch this battle develop in British Columbia. Could Harper push Campbell towards Dion, or does he just push back, and in so doing, buttress Dion?

New Green Shift Poll

Thanks to whomever was kind enough from Angus-Reid to send me a pdf of their latest online poll. The horserace numbers show the Conservatives lead shrinking, down from 7 points last month to 3 this month- Cons 33%, Libs 30%, NDP 19%, Greens 9%. These numbers now mirror other polls, basically a statistical deadheat.

The interesting part of the poll, another measure of people's attitudes towards the "Green Shift". A mixed bag, there appears to be support for the broad strokes, but voters are still largely unaware of the actual details, some misinformation:
Supporters of Canada’s four main opposition parties express positive views on the proposed carbon tax presented last week by Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, but some misconceptions about the plan and its implications remain

Putting a price on carbon:
Putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions is a good idea:

47% support
36% oppose

Will a carbon tax help:
The proposed carbon tax will ultimately lead people to be more mindful of their carbon consumption and change their behaviour
65% support
26% oppose

Good news, for the general theme of the Liberal plan:
As you may know, Liberal leader Stéphane Dion presented his carbon tax proposal—also known as the Green Shift—last week. Which of these statements comes closest to your own point of view?

Support 70%
Oppose 19%

However, the Liberals have work to do getting the message out:
The proposed carbon tax will increase the price of gasoline across Canada:
66% True
8% Not True

The proposed carbon tax will be revenue neutral—the money generated by the carbon tax will be given back to Canadians in the form of personal income tax cuts and business tax cuts:

15% True
54% Not True

People also overwhelming believe a carbon tax will hurt low income earners and seniors.

On political possibilites, another poll that suggests an opportunity t expand support:
The proposed carbon tax was welcomed by supporters of the four opposition parties, with 66 per cent of Liberal voters, 56 per cent of NDP voters, 51 per cent of Bloc Québécois voters, and 49 per cent of Green voters agreeing that putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions is a good idea. A majority of Liberals (57%) and Greens (54%) are willing to pay higher taxes on fossil fuels if they also get an income tax cut.

Conservatives aren't supportive. But then again, when only 44% of Conservative respondents actually believe in global warming, is that terribly surprising?

This is the type of poll that everyone can select the information that validates their predisposition. For my part, I like the fact that another polling outfit shows a close national race, reinforcing that dynamic. On the environmental front, the Liberals can see a path for growth, but it is imperative that they get the message out in a clear way- no news there.

Canadians Welcome Debate

Stephane Dion’s little debate challenge, is turning into a useful talking point and strategic pivot. Dion is now armed with the sentiment that “Canadians overwhelming want us to debate”:
An overwhelming majority of Canadians want to see Stéphane Dion and Prime Minister Stephen Harper square off in a televised debate on the Liberals' proposal for a carbon tax, a new poll shows.
"Canadians appear to be ready to see Harper and Dion discussing policy away of the confines of the House of Commons, and this might help Dion," said Mario Canseco, director of global studies for Angus Reid Strategies.
Almost 70 per cent of Canadians are keen to see that debate happen, according to the Toronto Star/Angus Reid poll released yesterday.
Canseco said the political duel could work to Dion's advantage as he tries to pitch his party's carbon tax proposal to voters.
"More than anything, it gives Dion an opportunity to shed the label of weakness," Canseco said

The money quote:
"Harper might never agree to this debate, but Dion will have a chance to say that he was willing to meet him anytime, and that the onus is on the Prime Minister," Canseco said.

And there it is, whether Harper agrees or not is a side issue, what does matter is the optics. Dion wanting a debate, the public agrees and Harper is on the defensive. That is a terrific position to be in for Dion, because he does address the “weakness” factor and it is left to Harper to find excuses, or agree. I hope the formal letter includes the “will of Canadians”, it would be a nice touch :)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Grand Conspiracy

The last few days, we have heard the "separatist" angry, as the usual suspects focus on the easy whipping boy, those dirty Liberals who want to ruin the "west". Yawn me a river. Liberals conspiring to hurt Alberta, NEP II, as though tackling GHG emissions is supposed to ignore the elephant in the room, recognizing the OBVIOUS, tantamount to blasphemy.

Now it seems, a growing convergence stateside wants nothing to do with "dirty" oil. Have the Liberals infiltrated the American political system? First, the likely next President:
"If it turns out that those technologies don't advance . . . and the only way to produce those resources would be at a significant penalty to climate change, then we don't believe that those resources are going to be part of the long-term, are going to play a growing role in the long-term future," said Jason Grumet, Mr. Obama's senior energy adviser.

The remarks amount to a shot across the bow of Alberta's oilsands industry, which is planning to boost production from 1.3 million barrels a day to 3.5 million barrels over the next decade.

"The amount of energy that you have to use to get that oil out of the ground is such that it actually creates a much greater impact on climate change, as well as using much more energy than even traditional petroleum," he said.

"And I think it's an open question as to whether or not the Canadian resources are going to meet those tests."

This comes on the same day, American mayors join to focus their sights on the tar sands:
Mayors from the U.S.'s largest cities singled out Western Canada's oil sands on Monday as they called for a crackdown on fuels that could cause catastrophic global warming.

"The production of tarsands oil from Canada emits approximately three times the carbon dioxide pollution per barrel as does conventional oil production and significantly damages Canada's Boreal forest ecosystem - the world's largest carbon storehouse," said the resolution.

This resolution sends a clear signal to Alberta and to oil producers that they need to get a grip on their greenhouse gas emissions," said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a Washington-based environmental group.

In response:
Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier also blasted his U.S. counterparts, saying they need to visit Alberta in person to "get the facts on oilsands production."

"This resolution suggests a lack of understanding," he said

I recommend inviting the mayors for a tour, so they can get the "facts". Don't forget to see the tailing ponds!

A Point Of Clarification

Some partisans are cautioning other partisans, not to read too much into a poll, which demonstrates an openness to the Liberals "the color you get when you mix blue and yellow" Shift (is that okay?). Just as a point of clarification, speaking for myself, I hardly view one finding, on a vague question, as "victory". More correctly, it just serves as another useful piece of information to suggest the Liberals might be well positioned moving forward.

How this whole debate shakes out remains to be seen, whether the plan is an albatross or a savior, completely debatable, reasonable people have differing views. My own mental math supports the concept, policy wise and from a political perspective. The first test, and a daunting one, if you consider the pre-emptive strikes by the Conservatives and others to define, was for the Liberals to release their plan and simply keep their head above water. I don't think it much of a stretch to say the initial launch was largely successful, easily Dion's best moment to date as leader. Pleasantly surprised is how I would characterize the opening, a fair response from the media, some helpful allies, a positive tone, a sense of coherent strategy, contrasted with a seemingly unglued Harper and friends. I like what I've seen.

My primary reaction to the latest poll is just another positive sign, a complete rebuke of the Conservatives claims of "crazy" and "screwed". That doesn't translate to any sense whatsoever that the Liberals are well on their way to forming government, or even any claim that the plan will be understood and appreciated. What I think you can say, based on a sense of the initial launch, it has been anything but a bad week for Liberal fortunes. All you can hope for is opportunity, and I don't think it entirely biased to argue that this plan presents just that. Opportunities are what you make of it, and in this case, also how your opponents react, who's more effective.

The way I look at it, Liberals have finally launched, successfully discarded the booster rockets and now try to successfully navigate the proper path to see if we reach target.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Canadians Ready To Embrace Economic Ruin

Try to wipe the smile off my face, just try:
A new poll finds suggests the Liberals could score votes with their controversial "green shift'' environmental proposal.

The first national poll since the Liberal leader Stephane Dion announced that he would impose a carbon tax to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions has found Canadians are beginning to pick sides.

While a majority remain undecided, 14 per cent say they are in favour and 17 per cent are opposed.

But once the policy is explained to respondents, the Canadian Press-Harris-Decima survey found that 47 per cent liked the idea and 39 per cent were opposed.

Significantly, the poll found that most of the opposition to the idea comes from Conservatives.

To be honest, that result is better than I would have thought.

More here:

The key finding, said pollster Bruce Anderson, is that Canadians who did not describe themselves as Conservatives were favourably disposed to the idea of a revenue-neutral carbon tax.

Two-thirds of Liberals, 59 per cent of New Democrats, 62 per cent Parti Quebecois supporters and 48 per cent of Green Party supporters said they were in favour of the policy – all, except for the Green Party, by wide margins.

The Liberal green plan is also finding double-digit support among women (48 per cent in favour, 34 per cent opposed), voters under 35 years of age (61 versus 26), and in voters east of the Ontario-Manitoba border (49 versus 37), all segments the Conservatives need in order to win a majority.

“It does have the potential to be a game-changer for the Liberals,” Mr. Anderson said.

Also interesting, a third of Conservatives like the proposal (I guess none of them are online ;)).

Howl away with your childish fear mongering, it would appear Canadians are smarter than you think. If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of Conservatives scrambling.

The Empty Chair

I've read a few news items today, wherein the Conservatives are deflecting any call for debate with Harper, saying Dion had his chance in Question Period, but he failed to show up. Speaking of not showing up, Harper's attendance record the past two months:
June 20th absent

June 19th absent

June 13th absent

June 9th absent

June 6th absent

May 30th absent

May 29th absent

May 28th absent

May 27th absent

May 26th absent

House off for week

May 16th absent

May 12th absent

May 9th absent

May 8th absent

May 2nd absent

May 1st absent


Harper had an impressive 48% attendance record, maybe Buckler should learn the phrase "when you live in a glass house, don't throw stones". As a matter of fact, I seem to remember a Don Martin column a few weeks ago, wherein he suggested the PMO were purposely keeping Harper away from Parliament, to avoid all the questions of scandal and missteps.

Anyways, I'm sure the Conservatives can come up with better, sometimes their genius just takes a few days to ferment.

On a side note, Harper has apparently already begun the summer barbeque circuit:

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Let's Dance


Clearly, the Liberals think they've hit on a winner, with the debate angle. Keeping up the pressure, Dion will write a letter to Harper, which will be available to all media outlets. Perfect:

Dion challenges PM to 'green' debate

OTTAWA — Stéphane Dion took on a rare aggressor's role Sunday with Stephen Harper, daring the Prime Minister to debate him over the Liberals new green plan.

The Liberal Leader made the challenge on CTV's Question Period Sunday, where he also characterized Mr. Harper as vulgar for suggesting the Liberal plan would “screw” taxpayers. “I would be very pleased to debate it at any time,” Mr. Dion said. “And let me tell you one thing ... I will always debate in a respectful way, in a meaningful way, because it's what Canadians deserve.”

Sources said that Mr. Dion intends to make his request official with a letter to the Prime Minister. It's the first effort of an aggressive sales pitch which began after the announcement last week.

Harper's people better develop a better talking point- is there a Canadian alive that still believes our question period is a place for serious debate?:
“If Mr. Dion wanted to have a debate with the Prime Minister he should have, for starters, shown up for Question Period during the last week that the House of Commons was sitting,” Sandra Buckler said.

Next.

So far so good.

Calling Out Harper

Who's playing chess now? The best defence is a good offence, and Dion has successfully turned the tables on Harper. I view calling for a television debate on climate change as a strategic stroke of brilliance. Dion basically calls Harper out, leaving a simple question- what are you afraid of?

Nobody can dispute the merits of an "adult" conversation, to allow Canadians the opportunity to make up their own minds. Whether you think Dion "crazy" or not, the onus is now on Harper to rise to the occasion, put his inflammatory remarks to the test. Harper has characterized the Liberal plan in such a dismissive way, he should relish the opportunity to pound Dion with his reckless plan. Anything less, and Dion has successfully marginalized Harper as nothing more than paper tiger, spewing nonsense, but cowardly resisting a serious discussion.

Dion seizes the initiative once again, he has laid out the terms and Harper is forced to react. I would suggest, if Harper ignores the proposal, that Dion use that at every turn, as proof that Harper is "not a leader". What does it say about Harper, that he would refuse to debate a man, which his supporters constantly argue, lacks a basic grasp of English? Afraid to debate Stephane Dion, on an issue which apparently "screws" us all, how can one not jump at the opportunity?

Let's hope all the surrogates take up this theme, and constantly put out the idea of a debate. This ensures that every interview with a Conservative asks the question, leaving Harper and company to scramble with weak excuses, or take up the challenge. Either way, that dynamic is a political win for the Liberals. As people try to sift through the conflicting messages, what better way than to have the two principles engage each other? Match the bravado with action Mr. Harper, or risk being so marginalized that you aren't taking seriously, yelling from the bleachers, but afraid to take to the pitch. I fail to see the downside for the Liberals here.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Fear Mongering (with poll)

I was thinking about all this bombastic, over the top, rhetoric coming from the Conservatives and their sympathizers, over the Liberal Green Shift. Trying to be predictive here, what else can we expect to hear in the coming days:



On a side note, I did a quick survey of our local grocery stores, and they do report a significant run on all canned goods and bottled water, as people prepare for the coming apocalypse. On that score, I hope to have my underground, steel reinforced shelter, completed by late Sunday. Fingers crossed.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Economist: Most Canadians "Better Off" Under Liberal Plan

Quite a contrast, to the "better store up on canned goods" mentality of the Conservative HOWLERS, spewing their bombastic nonsense everywhere. Don Drummond today, the economist previously hired by this government, because he is so "highly regarded". "Better off"? The horror:
Economist gives thumbs up to Dion's green plan

A prominent Canadian economist says Stephane Dion's "Green Shift" carbon tax plan is "a good start" that will leave the general Canadian taxpayer "better off."

"The idea itself is very sensible," Don Drummond, the chief economist at TD Bank, told CTV's Canada AM on Friday.

Drummond said that "in most cases" the average Canadian will "be better off" because of income tax breaks and additional federal benefits included in the plan. He also noted that the Liberal plan also addresses a "bizarre situation" on energy taxes.

"We have a fairly stiff tax on gasoline. We have a lower level tax on aviation and diesel. But we have no tax of other pollutants from energy (such as coal). So, it levels the playing field," he said.

Put that in your hysteria pipe and smoke it.

Stephane Dion: The Canadian Obama?

There was one aspect of Dion's speech yesterday which has gone entirely unnoticed, but could prove relevant. Dion specifically made reference to a new kind of politics that bridges the "right vs left" disconnect. The idea of a coalition, a different approach to politics. Sound familiar?

A minor reference, in a major speech, but one the could be a factor moving forward. I'm not for a moment suggesting Dion has the innate tools to replicate the Obama phenomenon in Canada, he clearly doesn't. That said, I would advise the Liberal leader to cultivate this argument more, because tactically it's a winner. Let's keep one thing in mind, if we are going to have a fall election, which appears likely, it will occur just as the American race is heating up, it will, in many respects, compete with the "sexy" race down south. When you consider the dominant theme, that being "change", Obama preaching a new political paradigm, it isn't hard to see how that ideal could bleed into Canada. Obama is wildly popular in Canada, any politician who can indirectly attach themselves to his thrust could enhance their chances.

Which brings us back to Dion's comments yesterday, phrasing which wasn't an accident, although quite subtle at this point. Consider the landscape ahead, and I think it pretty shrewd to frame the debate in such a way that it could draw analogues to Obama, if not in personal attributes, but within the broad strokes. Dion's best chance in ultimately selling his plan, is if he offers it up as a departure from the cynical, tell me what I want to hear, tactical considerations. When Canada is bombarded, come the fall, with talk of change, talk of breaking the old right vs left divide, Dion would be well served to continue using similar language, it just might provide indirect validation, at the perfect moment.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

"This is crazy economics. It's crazy environmental policy" Harper

Crazy economists:

"Carbon taxes are not a bad way to go in addressing global warming," said Doug Porter, deputy chief economist at BMO Capital Markets.

"I think most economists would probably be generally favourable to them. It´s about as efficient a way as is out there."

----


"TD Bank chief economist Don Drummond analyzed the plan and said the carbon tax is good idea"

“Pollution must have a price tag. Currently it is too cheap to pollute, and too expensive not to.”

---

"If we're serious about reducing greenhouse gases, we have to have a carbon tax or its equivalent," Mark Jaccard said.

---

"If people are serious about changing behavior, to reduce the amount of carbon, you do have to increase the price of a lot things. The Liberal is quite straightforward. The reality, if we are going to do it, this is the type of change we need to be looking at"

Economist Bill Robson President CD Howe Institute

---

Letter sent to British Columbian government, arguing for carbon tax, signed by 70 economists:

"We are writing to urge you to include a revenue neutral carbon tax in your upcoming budget. Your government identified action on global warming as a critical policy goal. We believe that a carbon tax is the most efficient and effective way to reach that goal."

Signed by:

Carbon Tax Letter Signatories

UBC Economics

Siwan Anderson, Paul Beaudry, Mathilde Bombardini, Gorkem Celik, Clive Chapple, Brian Copeland, Michael Devereux, Erwin Diewert, Catherine Douglas, Mauricio Drehlichman, Mukesh Eswaran, Patrick Francois, Giovanni Gallipoli, Robert Gateman, David Green, Yoram Halevy, Joseph Henrich, Viktoria Hnatkovska, Atsushi Inoue, Tsvetanka Karagyozova, Ashok Kotwal, Amartya Lahiri, Thomas Lemieux, Kevin Milligan, Hugh Neary, Donald Paterson, Michael Peters, Angela Redish, W. Craig Riddell, Shinichi Sakata, Henry Siu, Rashid Sumaila, William Troost, Okan Yilankaya

Sauder School of Business

Richard Barichello, Anthony Boardman, Keith Head, Thomas Hellman, Sanghoon Lee, Peter Nemetz, Thomas Ross, Ratna Shrestha, Veikko Theile, Ilan Vertinsky, Ralph Winter,

Faculty of Land and Food Systems

Richard Barichello, Katherine Baylis, Sumeet Gulati, James Vercammen,

SFU Economics

Steeve Mongrain, Gordon Myers, Krishna Pendakur, Arthur Robson, Nicolas Schmitt, Simon Woodcock,

Public Policy

Dominique Gross, Jonathan Kesselman, John Richards,

University of Victoria Economics

Merwan Engineer, Martin Farnham, Elisabeth Gugl, Malcolm Rutherford, Herbert Schuetz, Paul Schure, David Scoones, G. Cornelius van Kooten,

University of Northern British Columbia

Paul Bowles, Ajit Dayanandan, Fiona MacPhail

Canada is in serious trouble, if these "crazy" people are some of our most respected economists. And, what was John Baird thinking, when he hired Drummond and Jaccard (which he himself called "two of Canada's leading economists") to formulate his anti-Kyoto presentation to the Senate?

A simple question, since when do economists endorse a plan which will ruin our economy? If, as Mr. Harper argues, this policy is "crazy", why does it seem to have such widespread support? What are we to make of this headline, from "Oilweek" no less?:
"Economists give Liberal carbon plan guarded praise"

OTTAWA _ The Liberal party´s carbon plan received tepid endorsement Thursday from economists, who say the much-ballyhooed "green shift" won´t by itself solve the climate change conundrum _ but it also won´t leave the economy in tatters...


Crazy isn't it?

Dion "Shift Happens" Poll

Just for fun:

Center Stage


More comments on the details later, but I wanted to focus on Dion and his performance today. Passionate, measured, thoughtful, humorous, inspiring, driven, strong, clear and honorable.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I've been an uneven supporter of Dion, frankly I don't think he deserved better, if one is being fair. That said, I see today as somewhat of a new chapter, this is they type of resolve and vision that is infectious. This speech completely obliterates the "not a leader" characterization, simply because everything Dion said encompasses the adjectives of leadership.

You can agree or disagree with the concepts, but anyone with a hint of impartiality must acknowledge that this plan represents a fundamental revolution in approach and thinking. This plan isn't just about carbon, it's about re-inventing our society, a completely progressive relationship between man and the planet. Has an opposition leader ever released such a comprehensive plan, that has such an underlying philosophical underpinning?

I didn't vote Liberal in the last election, the environment my chief hesitation. I didn't vote Liberal in the election prior to that, the environment being my chief hesitation. In the next election I will put all the strength in my arm to mark a dark X for my Liberal candidate. I am behind Dion 100% on this plan, today he actually inspired me, he actually gave me chills, a state I never thought possible. We wanted policy, we have it in spades, we have a vision, a clear point of distinction.

Bravo Stephane, let the rabid dogs HOWL, you have exposed them for the frauds they are. Finally, an adult has entered center stage.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Why Dion May Be In Trouble


This comment, in reference to the G and M story on the Liberal plan:

" I'm not quite getting this math. A tax cut from 15% to 13.5% is equal to a 10% reduction. It looks like a 1.5% reduction to me. What am I missing? Can someone explain how this equals a 10% reduction? "


Forget about the tax cut component, I say we pour the "windfall" into Canada's education system.

Carbon Plan Details

CBC has released more details of the Liberals tax shift proposal. Most intriguing, the Liberals will offer the idea of a "carbon tariff" on imports:
No new taxes are expected on gas for cars, trucks and buses, and special help was to be offered for low-income Canadians to buffer the higher prices they will have to pay for goods and energy.

The new details confirmed by CBC News sources Wednesday include:

Across-the-board personal income tax cuts of around 10 per cent for all three tax brackets, as people pay more for heating costs, food and other items.

A moratorium on new federal taxes on aviation and diesel fuel for the first year of the program.

Extra help for low-income Canadians in the form of tax credits so that they will get money back to help pay for higher cost of goods, even if they report no income on their tax returns.

Additional help for rural and northern Canadians to help soften the blow of possibly higher costs.

Assistance for non-profit groups that may face a crunch — for example, women's shelters that have to pay significantly more to heat their premises.

New tariffs on goods imported from countries that have no carbon taxes, as a way to even out higher costs for similar goods produced in Canada.

Enriched tax breaks for companies using and inventing green technologies, to encourage research and development as well as investment.

I thought it might be premature to roll out the idea of a carbon tariff now, but it's an excellent counter to the economic apocalypse the Conservatives will predictably argue. That's how you "lead the world" Mr. Baird, you actually do something, which gives Canada the leverage to force others to comply. This idea effectively blunts the competitive disadvantage argument, while at the same time offers an incentive to get others on board. Anybody claiming that a carbon tax will move more jobs out of Canada, have lost a key talking point.

When Rubin of the CIBC first came out with carbon tariff plan, I emailed it too a few Liberals, hoping the party would consider the idea as part of the plan. In my opinion, the idea of a carbon tariff may be the most important element in lowering the world's emissions. Nice to see this Liberal plan has a sense of the big picture on global warming.

UPDATE:

A few more details:

According to party insiders, the shift would impose a tax of $10 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions in the first year, rising to $40 per tonne in the fourth year.

The tax, which would be applied at the wholesale level, is expected to generate up to $15 billion per year in revenue by the fourth year.

Among the tax measures, insiders say Dion's plan would reduce the tax rate for Canadians in the lowest tax bracket to 13.5 per cent from 15 per cent. That amounts to a 10 per cent tax reduction.

The tax rate for the two middle tax brackets would be cut by one percentage point, to 21 per cent and 25 per cent. That would amount to a tax reduction of five and four per cent respectively.

No reduction is proposed in the top tax rate for high-income earners.

Depends On How You Look At It

A new Ipsos poll of British Columbians, shows a sizeable majority disapproves of the carbon tax. But, that is only part of the story:
Ipsos Reid has found that 59 per cent of those polled are against the new tax (39 per cent support) -- set to begin July 1 with a 2.4-cent-per-litre increase in the price of gasoline -- with just under half of the respondents saying they oppose it "strongly."

Opposition to the tax is greatest in the Interior, followed by the Lower Mainland and then the rest of mainland B.C.

See, see, a carbon tax is political suicide. Well, not so fast. Seems to me, such widespread opposition should manifest itself where it counts, voting intention. Interesting then, that the Campbell government pays NO political price, in fact the gap between themselves and the anti-carbon NDP is higher than ever:
The poll shows the Liberals have the support of 47 per cent of decided voters, a number slightly above what they've held throughout the past year.

The NDP has 33-per-cent support, down three points from this time last year.

The seatless Green Party remained steady at 16-per-cent support, a level it has essentially held for the past year as well.

"I think the most important number is that at this point the vote hasn't changed one iota, despite the fact a lot of people knew this [the carbon tax] was coming," said Braid.

"It's been discussed since February and it hasn't had any impact whatsoever."

Obviously, "the most important number", actually, the only number that matters. Campbell's numbers "slightly better", the NDP down marginally, hardly supporting the political suicide argument of the naysayers. I think this disconnect speaks to the dual themes of hating taxes, but appreciating leadership. Nobody likes taxes, as acknowledged by the pollster:
"You shouldn't read too much into the opposition here," he said.

"You could insert any kind of tax and you'd probably see a 40/60 split, maybe even worse."

In other words, that's the kneejerk response, it's expected. What is relevant, if that disagreement shifts political opinion, clearly it hasn't and that's the bottomline. I'm sure the detractors will cite this poll to support their opinion, but in my view, they miss the point entirely. Last time I checked, the purest measure of opinion was vote intention. On that score, all factors considered, this should allay some fears as to the coming "suicide".

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Remain Calm



I know everyone has a point of view, but some of the criticism directed towards the Liberals yet to be released plan is just over the top, bordering on absurd. I guess, in the end, it will come down to how serious a debate we have, in that sense reservations are entirely justified. The accurate reality, nobody really knows how this plan will fly with the public, there are conflicting signals, and in the end, a lot will depend on events not yet realized. Pre-judging at this point is really just handicapping.


If it's all cartoons, fear mongering and soundbites, the plan will be a disaster. If it's a serious debate, that actually engages people, then it's entirely feasible. The unknown, and the critical factor, we just don't know which path wins the day.

On the serious debate side, it's interesting to read some of the expert opinion, which offers a stark contrast from the superficial. I was reading these comments from Jock Finlayson, vice-president of policy for the Business Council of B.C, who also sits on the Bank of Canada board:
the Business Council of B.C., which had been lukewarm, said the tax will not be hard to bear.

"Households in the province should not be worse off economically," said Jock Finlayson, the council's executive vice-president of policy.

"In fact, I think a lot of them are going to be better off, marginally, with the carbon tax.

"I don't think that message has gotten out, and I say that as somebody who was not a huge proponent of even doing this."

Better off?

I searched for some other opinions from Finlayson, to see if he really wasn't a "proponent" of the carbon tax. The interesting part, it would seem Finlayson's earlier concerns revolved around the idea that a carbon tax disporportionately punished big industry. Don't tell the NDP:
"The concern we have is that although it's revenue-neutral to the government, it will have a fairly significant impact on some major trade-exposed industries," said Jock Finlayson, executive vice-president of policy at the Business Council of B.C., which has led the industry protest efforts.


Jock Finlayson, executive vice-president of policy at the Business Council of B.C.

These are industries that are involved in international business trading, exporting primarily, and they have very limited capacity to pass on higher input costs to their customers," Finlayson said.

The council has calculated that the carbon tax will cost those "trade-exposed" sectors more than $500 million a year once the tax reaches $30 a tonne.

As it is currently structured, 70 per cent of the tax will be paid by businesses, but only 30 per cent will be returned through corporate tax cuts; the rest will go to individuals in the form of personal tax cuts.

Well, isn't that just the argument of the other parties, that it's better to go after the big polluters, rather than target the consumer? Finlayson's criticism is that industry takes the hit under the carbon tax scheme, which is a strange departure from all the political rhetoric we hear. Finlayson also says the average person would be "better off", which again doesn't quite jive with the hysteria.

Again, the only real question, will informed opinion such as this be heard through all the NOISE.

Breaking: Elections Canada Impartial

Reading the Globe and Mail article on email exchanges within Elections Canada, it would seem the story confirms that EC takes any hint of bias seriously. Is it really a "story" that officials were concerned about a possible leak to reporters and Liberals? I would be concerned if they weren't concerned. Given the nonsensical diversions of the Conservatives, would you expect anything less?:
The documents also show that Mr. Mayrand said an internal review by the agency found no indication of a leak.

In the days after the high-profile raid in Ottawa, the Tories charged that Elections Canada had ignored similar electoral ad spending transgressions by the opposition, and told the media and Liberals about the raid to maximize political damage.

"With regard to this allegation of [a] leak do you have any suggestion as to how we could kill it?" Mr. Mayrand asked in an e-mail dated April 18.

"If we can dispel this story [the leak], we will have only positive media coverage," replied Ms. Vézina, the associate deputy chief electoral officer in charge of political financing. "And the alternative is that we appear to be partisan or biased or vindictive and at the moment the media seem to believe we tipped off the CBC and the Liberals."

"Our internal review indicates no reasonable ground to believe there was a leak," he wrote. "This may be pure diversion tactic/competitive frustration from a media outlet vis-a-vis another. The central fact is that media were there more than two hours after the operation started."

Ms. Vézina replied, "Ok. But however we do it we need to kill it as it seems to be the one negative aspect haunting us and damaging our reputation. Even the disclosure of the affidavit won't eliminate the doubt about the so-called leak."

EC conducted an "internal review" and found no evidence of a leak. Don't we want EC to make sure all conduct is above board, to eliminate any hint of partisanship? EC didn't scoff at the Conservative allegations, they looked into the matter, which is what should happen, if one is trying to be fair. Also noteworthy, the media and Liberals showed up a full two hours after the raid, an eternity when you consider how fast news travels.

I was reading some of the commentary to this story, and it's being spun as evidence of a cover up. I see it as vindication, obviously EC would want to "kill" any notion of a bias, after all the foundation of the institution is it's apolitical mandate. If the media is reporting a "tip off", fueled by the Conservatives predictable method of dealing with a crisis, then I have no qualms with EC monitoring coverage and trying to find evidence of a leak. And, I would suspect if any evidence was found, that person would have been reprimanded.

I'm sure this "revelation" will be manipulated, but it seems to me all we have here is a respected institution taking its impartiality very seriously, worried about even the hint of bias. Good.


UPDATE

The companion post

Monday, June 16, 2008

National Post's Ivison Endorses Liberal Plan

Okay, so I'm reading John Ivison's column in the National Post, frankly something I can only stomach occasionally. It's a quirky piece, because it spends a good portion hammering Dion's plan:
This is, of course, hogwash. The Liberals are going to propose that the Auditor-General's office confirm that all taxes raised are returned to consumers, but an audit would not take account of price increases introduced by companies hit elsewhere by the Liberal tax grab. For example, if you are Suncor, an integrated oil company that turns oil from the oilsands into crude before shipping it to its refineries to be converted into transportation fuel, and you suddenly find your costs have risen dramatically because of the carbon tax, how likely is it that you will resist the temptation to make your customers pay more at the pumps?

But:
To be fair, the Conservative cap and trade plan is equally deceptive.

Equally deceptive. Which means all the parties plans will cost you, so there goes that argument.

All things being equal, then:
A carbon tax would have the advantage over cap and trade of cost certainty, less price volatility and comparative administrative simplicity.

Ivison ends with scepticism that Canadians will buy in, once they learn that it will cost them with "their money". But, really what Ivison presents suggests the opposite. Following the logic, all the party plans will cost consumers, but a carbon tax has advantages which are attractive. That presents the voter will all four parties endorsing essentially two approaches, both of which bring cost through the economy, which means they have to accept "their money". Faced with that real scenario, as Ivison sees it, what is the best of the worst options? Welcome aboard John, although that probably wasn't you intent.

The New Pierre?


Has Pierre Poilievre been replaced? Normally, the last Member Statement, just prior to the beginning of Question Period, Pierre would stand and offer an attack on Dion and the Liberals. This tactic has gone on for quite some time, Pierre the attack dog, trying to throw off the Liberals before their questions.

Today, no Pierre, instead Harper went literally to the backbench (he can touch the curtains) and brought out rookie MP Dean Del Mastro from Peterborough to do the requisite Liberal bash prior to QP. I must say, pretty effective too, Del Mastro read off his paper so intently, it looked like it hurt.

The bigger question, has Pierre been turfed as primary attack dog? I suppose, it could be something as understandable as still having the cone on his head from being neutered last week, but still....

THUD

That's the sound of the latest Conservative attacks ads falling flat, proving once again that with each successive predictable campaign (this being the sixth seperate set of attack ads), voters begin to tune you out. These are pretty conclusive poll results:
According to the Innovative poll, of those who were aware of the ads, 60 per cent said they were left with a negative impression of them, and 20 per cent said they were left with a positive impression, while 18 per cent said neither.

Impressions of the ads did not seem to lend a significant advantage to either the Tories or the Liberals, however. Thirty-one per cent of respondents said they were more likely to vote Liberal as a result of the ads, 33 per cent said less likely, and 36 per cent said neither. For the Conservatives, 22 per cent of respondents said they were more likely to vote Tory as a result of the ads, 51 per cent said they were less likely, and 25 per cent said neither.

Wow, that's pretty impressive, by 3-1 voters are left with a negative impression, and it is the CONSERVATIVE brand which suffers more. I've heard the ads on the radio a half dozen times now, and listening to their amateurish tone and juvenile messaging, is this really surprising?

Expanding the base?:
"Overall, the ads seem to have worked well with the Conservative base but have not worked with anyone else," said an Innovative Research summary of the poll results.

I'm not sure the "base" was the idea here, but it looks like they've effectively turned off any potential support.

I've said this before, and this poll supports the theme, these type of ads are now at the point of saying more about the source than the target. These attacks reinforce a cementing theme of a mean-spirited, negative, bullying bunch of hyper-partisans. Prior to this latest round, everyone knew the Conservative weaknesses, and yet they plow ahead with a plan that just highlights the unattractive. Pure genius I say.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Revenue "Neutral", We'll Prove It

Some details are starting to emerge, about the Liberals "tax shift", and I must say this idea should help counter the nonsensical Conservative attacks:
Stephane Dion will deploy Canada's auditor general to backstop his claim that a Liberal carbon tax will be revenue neutral, not the massive tax grab depicted by the Tories.

Under the plan, the federal treasury would not keep a dime of the roughly $14 billion in revenue the proposed carbon tax would generate. Rather, the money would be shifted back to consumers in the form of offsetting cuts to personal income and corporate taxes.

But Dion is not going to ask Canadians to simply trust him on that.
The plan includes a promise of legislation that would require the independent auditor general to review the tax shift annually and to verify publicly whether it is living up to its advance billing as revenue neutral.

"We will prove this," Liberal finance critic John McCallum said in an interview.

"I know politicians aren't always believed, and when we say it's revenue neutral people will be skeptical and they'll refer back to the GST. But we will have the auditor general verify each year it is revenue neutral".

Having third-party verification will be key to insulate the Liberals from the already known Conservative attack lines. Having the Auditor-General verify that any plan is actually revenue neutral might just expose the "trick" theme for what it is, fear mongering. I actually think this is quite a shrewd move, because it does say, don't trust us, trust those who have no vested interest. This idea moves the discussion outside of the purely political realm. I like it.

The above addresses the Conservative attacks, the following will address the NDP lines:
Insiders say Dion and his inner circle have agonized over details, trying to ensure that no one is unfairly penalized by the carbon tax. Various measures have been built in to protect those who can't afford or can't access alternative energy sources, such as poor, elderly and rural Canadians, or those whose livelihoods are dependent on fossil fuels, such as truck drivers.

Originally, I was fine with a delayed release, because it afforded the Liberals the rare opportunity of having floated a vague plan, having everyone else expose their criticisms, which allowed for "tweaking" to address those attacks. In the end, the plan would already incorporate the counter talking points, which should result in a better package. Reading the above reinforces that notion, although the time is clearly NOW for the release.

Finally, McCallum offers the "only adult in the room" assessment:
"I cannot say to you that no Canadian will be unharmed by this" he said.
"What I can say is that we've done our very best to ensure that the most vulnerable Canadians will not fall through the cracks and they will have assistance to make the necessary adjustments.
"But the whole planet has to adjust to higher energy prices and costs, and dwindling supply relative to demand for oil, and it's not going to be totally painless for every human being."

Any serious discussion assumes some cost for people, that seems inherent to the idea of changing our habits. If the Liberal plan seeks to mitigate the harm, offer ways to offset, provide a clear path that could lead to lower taxes for the average Canadian, then people will understand that it can't be a free ride initially, attempting to change society in a such a fundamental way.

Poor Pierre

Ottawa Citizen column asks "Is Poilievre fit to hold public office?". Good question:

His party, and voters in Nepean-Carleton, should be asking if he's fit to hold public office. As a constituent, I would say no....

His efforts have not gone unnoticed on the Hill. A survey of political staffers by the publication The Hill Times awarded Poilievre top spot as the biggest gossip on the Hill and he tied for first as the biggest self-promoter.

In all, Poilievre's record ought to make Nepean-Carleton voters ashamed. The message from his residential schools comments and his shot about sex changes is that people in his riding are a bunch of red-neck bigots who have to be pandered to. Next election, let's show him that he's wrong.

Please do.

On the theme of self-promotion, I thought I would look at the long list of accomplishments. On Pierre's website he brags:
It also reminded me of the enormous achievements we have had together. Here are some examples of what we have accomplished:

Enormous achievements? I didn't realize attending local events, flipping burgers amounted to enormity, but it's the first thing on his scant list:
Personally attended 750 community events with many of you

Wow, clearly making the country better for all of us, or furthering your political career as the case may be.

I hope the Liberals target Pierre's riding, and rightfully paint him as the uber-conservative, all that's wrong with this government, sort of politician. Columns like the above suggest Pierre might not have an easy ride moving forward.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Market Acting As Carbon Tax

Everyday, we see more and more evidence that high fuel costs are already having the desired effect, accomplishing the basic argument of a carbon tax. A new polls suggests a seismic shift in our habit:
Millions of Canadian commuters are changing the way they get to work rather than paying the price at the pump, according to an Ipsos Reid poll conducted for Canwest News Service and Global National.

The poll, conducted this week as gas prices continue to rise, found that over the last six months 37 per cent of commuters were walking to work more and 31 per cent were switching to gas-efficient cars such as smaller vehicles.

The poll's results also indicate that 24 per cent of commuters were increasingly opting for carpooling, and 14 per cent were working more from home. Nine per cent of those polled said they took the drastic measure of moving closer to work.

The wild card is consumer demand, he said. "I think it's pretty clear evidence that there is a softening of North American demand for gasoline, as a result of the high price."

The poll also suggests that a number of Canadians are making plans to change their commuting habits in the future. A slim majority (52 per cent) of those polled said they plan on walking more in the future, while 49 per cent said they will switch to a more fuel-efficient car.

From everything I've read, it seems there really isn't any rational justification for oil trading at this price, it is entirely speculation. Supplies are up, demand is down, everyone is adjusting their forecasts downward, so one can assume, that after the summer season, prices will fall. If that holds true, then this change in routine might be a temporary shift, but then again even if gasoline were to retreat to a dollar a litre, it's still quite high.

I'll say it again, the Liberal carbon plan had better factor in the present circumstance and just leave it alone, or risk looking ridiculous. If the prices are artificial, and the bubble bursts, then, and only then, should a carbon tax kick in. The bottomline is reducing carbon emissions, if the market is currently achieving that in a substantial way, then any plan should factor in that reality.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

"I Welcome The Debate"


The NDP has it's plan for carbon, but I took Jack Layton at his word, that he "welcomed the debate" on environmental approaches, in reaction to the Liberal and Green angle. Layton wants a serious discussion, and is quite comfortable putting his ideas out there as the best policy. So, with that in mind, when I see this picture of Layton validating the Conservative smear machine, it frankly makes him look like an opportunist.

How can Layton stand there, point at the t-shirt and pose for a picture? Let me get this straight, the high minded NDP leader, who rises everyday in the House, who preaches that the NDP doesn't want to engage in the "gotcha" politics, the low signal approach to politics, doesn't run away from the yellow gutter? No, Layton sees an opportunity, nevermind the vehicle, and he stands there and endorses it. You pose with the representatives of the "do nothing" Conservatives, knowing full well that its a propaganda campaign, because you instantly realize it HELPS your cause, you effectively pimp out your supposed principles for perceived advantage. I guess they're right, when they say a picture says a thousand words. As a matter of fact, that's pretty much the book on Layton right there.

The Neutered Poodle



Everyday, the last member statement, prior to the beginning of Question Period, Pierre Poilievre stands and offers some childish cheapshot at the Liberal leader, part of some half baked strategy to get Dion "off his game" prior to his question. I must say, I watched with great delight today, as the arrogant "ankle bitter" rose to his feet, not to spew his usual nonsense, but to sheepishly apologize for exposing his true self.

As far as apologizes go, Pierre's was certainly wanting, real sincerity in short supply. The fact Pierre was forced to pull a "Lukwski" speaks to the seriousness of his remarks. The fact the government found it necessary to re-arrange the MP seating arrangement, putting Indian Affairs Minister Strahl and aborginal MP Rod Bruinooge beside Pierre as he apologized, is another indication of damage control. It all rang hollow, a little too scripted, Pierre trying hard to sound contrite, but it was more feeling bad over a "promising" career derailed.

The Liberals are demanding Pierre resign:
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre must be removed as Parliamentary Secretary for the intolerant comments he made yesterday only hours before the government made its official apology for the legacy of the residential school tragedy, Liberal Indian Affairs Critic Anita Neville said today.

“Not only did the Parliamentary Secretary taint the day with his comments, but he has yet to apologize,” said Ms. Neville. “Mr. Poilievre’s comments show complete disrespect. How can a Member of Parliament resort to such shameful stereotyping? The sincerity of the Prime Minister’s apology will be tested by his response to Mr. Poilievre’s ill-judged words.”

The real issue here is obviously what Pierre said, so take my disgust as a given. However, isn't it just wonderful to see the annoying turd squirm, his arrogant smirk evaporated? Lately, it's been Pierre, Pierre, Pierre, as Harper obviously miscalculated that this was the type of individual who deserved considerable face time for the government. As predicted, Pierre has turned into a liability, any objective observer could see a trainwreck in the making. I'll miss Pierre, in this sense, he was a terrible advocate for the government, hardly a persuasive defender, I felt comfortable that my impressions of him went beyond my own bias. Whatever Pierre's role moving forward, at the very least, the cocky poodle has been neutered, the smug know it all tainted, forever remembered as the "lazy indian" guy. Couldn't have happened to a more deserving person.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Thank-You Pierre

I wasn't going to comment on the formal apology today, because despite the fact it was Harper, it was a necessary acknowledgement. That said, after reading Pierre Poilievre's comments, I don't feel bad saying the following.

Stephen Harper, and his merry band of stooges, are the last people to be front and center, offering the formal apology. Let's cut through the pretense and the pretty words today, Harper doesn't give a shit about our aborginal population, in truth they have a great deal of contempt for the entire arrangement. Pierre just articulated the bottomline, beyond the presentation.

Actions speak louder than carefully crafted words, with just the right hint of staged empathy. That isn't to say the apology isn't genuine, only that the source is entirely conflicted. What exactly has this government done for aborginals, besides kill the Kelowna Accord, fail to follow through at the United Nations, basically bring nothing to the table, demonstrating ZERO sensitivity or true understanding.

What kind of a creton asks if we are getting "value" for the compensation money, on a day that was supposed to be about healing. And, was I the only one who noticed the homophobe Lukwski directly behind the PM as he offered his sober apology. Chuck Strahl, this government's Minister of Indian Affairs, is hardly a friend of aborginals.

I'd like to thank Pierre, because in essence, his insensitive comments, that demonstrate no understanding of anything, offer a lovely reality check to the show we say today. The message was powerful, but it was really just scripted lip service from the messenger. Poilievre demonstrated that in spades.

Poll Internals

Harris Decima has released the internals from their latest poll. One thing I found curious, did you know that two weeks ago this outfit had the Liberals ahead, outside of the margin of error? Why that was never published seems odd, since it was the first time since the leadership convention bounce that the Liberals reached 35% nationally, a full four points ahead of the Conservatives. You would think a poll that showed the Liberals clearly out front would be news worthy, but apparently not.

Anyways, the latest week, as already mentioned, shows a deadheat. However, when you look at the regional numbers, a deadheat looks like a clear Liberal advantage:
Quebec:

Bloc 34%
Libs 26%
Cons 20%
NDP 11%
Greens 8%

Another Quebec poll that shows the Liberals with a healthy lead on the Conservatives. As mentioned in a previous post, CROP mentions the party leaders when they ask party preference questions, which probably explains the differing results we see. Do your own mental math, whether or not including the leader skews the results- I think it does.

Ontario:
Libs 39%
Cons 31%
Greens 14%
NDP 14%

The battle for third is particularly interesting.

British Columbia (high MOE):
Libs 31%
Cons 30%
NDP 23%
Greens 13%

Atlantic Canada:
Libs 37%
Cons 28%
NDP 27%
Greens 6%

The Conservatives don't lead anywhere, outside of their western base. What looks like a national tie, is actually a Liberal minority, if these numbers were to hold.

While the predictable partisans are patting themselves on the back, at just how clever the Conservatives are, the trends don't seem to support the bluster.

Words To Remember

I don’t get too excited about the predictable attacks on Dion that he’s “flip flopped” on the idea of a carbon tax. The reason, it’s not like anyone can argue this change is politically motivated to curry favor, hard to see the personal advantage in adopting a controversial plan. I think you can counter most of the criticism with a simple pragmatism argument, an evolution of thought. That said, Dion might be well served to review his past statements, particularly this one:
”A carbon tax is almost always implemented as a direct tax on fossil fuels. Given the current price of these fuels, however, it is difficult to argue that a further price signal will dampen consumption or shift demand.

That “current price” in 2006, looks like utopia from here. I’ve said this before, but I hope this “tinkering” we are doing now encompasses some sort of threshold mechanism, wherein any tax only kicks in if prices drop to a certain level. We are in the midst of seismic consumption changes at the moment, the cost of fuel is already having the desired effect.

If Dion was right then, then it’s hard for any plan to argue differently now, given the present circumstance. Dion can change his opinion, but on the above score, those words have the potential to haunt him, if this plan doesn’t factor in the WOW of the NOW. If the goal is too cut emissions, change habits, nobody could argue that the market isn’t doing exactly that at the moment. The Liberal plan must acknowledge that simple, objective fact.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

More Bad News For The "Chess" Masters

What now Kasparov? This makes three pollsters, who now show a statistical tie. Bad news all around for the Conservatives, and worrying signs ahead. This Strategic Counsel poll marks the fifth consecutive month where Tory support has waned:
The survey suggests the Tories would barely hang on to minority status were an election to be held Wednesday, with 32 per cent of Canadians surveyed saying they would mark their ballots for the government – down four points from the 2006 election.

The Liberals are holding steady at 30 per cent, the same as in the past election, as are the New Democrats at 18 per cent.

The Greens are at 10 per cent, up five from the vote.

Conservatives have dropped another two points, Libs one, NDP up two, Greens unchanged.

More bad news in the regionals, especially Quebec:
On the race for votes, the Conservatives have dropped most in Quebec, where 16 per cent said they would opt for the Tories, down nine points from the election. The Liberals are up one point to 22 per cent. The Bloc Québécois continues to significantly lead the pack with 46 per cent, up four points.


Ontario:
In Ontario, the Liberals increased their lead from last month by three percentage points over the Tories, to 39-31.

How's that "smile be happy" theme working in central Canada Mr. Flaherty?

It gets worse:
In Ontario, which has absorbed the brunt of recent layoffs, 32 per cent picked the government as the best stewards of the economy, down six percentage points from February. By contrast, the Liberals were picked by 34 per cent, seven points ahead of where they were.

In Quebec, 29 per cent picked the Tories, down four points, while 24 per cent chose the Liberals, a drop of two points.


I guess the next question, have the Conservatives hit bottom?

Conservatives Poor Messengers

Normally, in a policy debate, the various parties can draw on expert opinion, or something else outside of the political arena to support their viewpoint. When this happens, no matter your position, it finds validity and then it becomes an argument of perception, saleability. I think it extremely important to consider one key point, as we move forward on the climate change debate. The Conservatives have no external support, which means their attacks and positions shouldn't be cause for overblown concern. As a matter of fact, I can't think of another issue where the Conservatives are so isolated, nobody, whether it be media, experts or economists take them seriously.

Polls show anywhere from 65-75% of Canadians don't approve of the government's environmental policies, have little confidence in their commitment. That means, the messenger is entirely marginalized, people already have a negative perception, which makes any "attack" less credible. Taken a step further, the "attacks" also draw attention not just to the target, but also to the flaws of the aggressor. Have you read a news item about the latest ads, which also doesn't reference the Conservatives weak approach? You can't just attack and yell forever, eventually it becomes a more serious debate, and within that, the Conservatives fail. The reason, nobody, in the know, will come to their aid.

Case in point, respected economist (the same guy Baird hired to cost out Kyoto for his Senate appearance) comes out today and trashes the hollow attacks:
"Tory attack on carbon tax is dishonest: economist"

A prominent resource economist has pronounced himself disgusted with "dishonest" Conservative attack ads on a Liberal carbon tax proposal that's yet to be unveiled.

"The Conservatives -- and I say this with great sadness because I don't care which political party is in power -- but if we're going to do anything about climate change, we're going to have to be honest with people," Marc Jaccard of Simon Fraser University told CTV.ca on Tuesday.

"This is just totally dishonest."

On the weekend, the Tories previewed ads aimed at the proposed carbon tax, painting it as Liberal Leader Stephane Dion's "tax on everything."

The ads are to start running Tuesday.

Jaccard, a co-author of the recent book Hot Air, said the Conservatives' own policy on reducing greenhouse gas emissions won't work because it doesn't put a price on carbon for consumers.

"Their policy is to regulate industry and then have these offset loopholes where industry can subsidize consumers. But those are the types of policies that have never worked in the past," he said.

"I'm not a fan of Stephane Dion, but when you get a politician out there that's trying to start an honest dialogue and say to people, 'you know what? We won't get our emissions down if there isn't a price on them and that's just the truth'," Jaccard said.

"And to see politicians saying, 'Maybe I can stay in power' or gain more power, or maybe a majority government, by distorting this" disgusted him, he said.

And that's the intangible in this entire debate. The Conservatives can howl, they can run ads, but when push comes to shove, they are the one's armed with the weak plan, a plan which has no backing. The NDP have a plan, the Greens have a plan, the Liberals will have a plan, people will debate the merits of each, while the Conservatives evaporate once we get passed soundbites and the superficial. Really, these attacks are desperation, it's all they have, because they bring nothing to the table.

Canadians already have a low opinion of the Conservatives, going entirely negative actually raises the prospect of Dion looking like the only adult in the room. I'm not suggesting problems, this plan had better show some realization of the present circumstance or it's dead weight, but nobody should fear the blue machine on this score. People wonder if Dion is the right messenger to sell the plan, but you could just as easily wonder if the Conservatives are the competent messenger to discredit the plan. Seems to me, the Conservatives are hardly the credible source, they have no apolitical support and their negativity ultimately draws attention their own failure. The Liberals will sink or swim, on the merits of their own plan, how capable they are at selling. Call me naive, but I'm just not afraid of the Conservative attack machine on this score.

I Wonder If They Gave Him A Good Reference

Monday, June 09, 2008

Lock Up Your Daughters

Who says Conservatives aren't cool?



This is just laughable at this point. Maybe they'll sue:
Conservative Party spokesman Ryan Sparrow said the company, the Fuelcast Network, refused to take the ads Monday morning.

The Tories had been trying to get in touch with the company for an explanation, said Mr. Sparrow, who was going around Ottawa Monday showing reporters the party's contract with the company, signed on June 5.

The contract clearly identifies the client as the “Conservative Party.”

“We have a binding contract,” Mr. Sparrow said. “The Conservative Party and we fully expect them to honour the contract.”

Fuelcast said it became aware of the political nature of the ads only on Sunday, when one of them was broadcast on CTV's Question Period. The company has said it reserves the right to not play an ad with a political message.

Nothing says successful smear campaign like having someone refuse to place your cheesy ads. I know the pundits are marvelling at this free campaign, creating the buzz, but if you ask me it's actually looking quite amateurish, maybe even embarrassing.

Potential

The latest Decima poll(h/t Scott Tribe) offers pretty dreadful results for the Conservatives. What does it say about the Conservatives, that even in a two party race with the Liberals, they still can't get a majority number? I guess Canada isn't Bush country afterall:
The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey compared attitudes toward the Tories and Liberals in a head-to-head, two-party format. The telephone poll of just over 1,000 Canadians found that 44 per cent of respondents said they'd prefer a Liberal government after the next election, compared with 37 per cent who preferred the Conservatives.

Obviously, it is the Liberals who have growth potential, the only Conservative solace a divided center-left. The poll also finds that in a head to head matchup, the Liberals would carry Quebec, a surprising result. How the various parties would break:
NDP supporters told Harris-Decima they'd prefer a Liberal government by an almost four-to-one margin (69-18) compared with the Tory alternative, and Green supporters favoured the Liberals more than two to one (58-28).

Only Bloc Quebecois supporters were more favourable to a Conservative outcome, by a 41-32 margin.

I'm actually amazed that the Liberals would carry so many Bloc voters.

The other parties aren't going anywhere, so this is all theoretical of course, but it is relevant that the Liberals have potential for growth. This tells me, that should the Liberals develop attractive policies, they could siphon off soft support from other parties. The poll gives the Liberals 31% support nationally, which means if they could draw a third of the Greens 12% and poach a couple points off the NDP total, we are looking at a Liberal government. I don't think that presentation is outlandish in the least. Meanwhile, Harper is frozen, ideologically isolated from the vast majority of Canadians.

The most obvious calculation, could this tax shift idea be the drawing card? Common sense says some appeal to Green voters. Factor in elbowing in on the NDP's environmental turf, relying on heavyweights like Suzuki for support, and Dion's idea looks less risky. On the other hand, this assumes that the Liberal plan doesn't move some of their voters elsewhere, that they are able to hold their constituent with these controversial ideas. I wouldn't assume that.

The news for the Conservatives gets worse, other than leadership, and the gap isn't as bad as I would have thought, the Liberals have the advantage:
The survey, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times in 20, indicates Prime Minister Stephen Harper beats Liberal Stephane Dion on leadership attributes (35-26). The Tories trail the Grits on questions of front-bench strength (26-20), values (35-29), and ideas for the future (31-28).

You counteract leadership, with an emphasis on team, which the above shows to be a Liberal advantage. Keep it up Pierre, John and Jim, you're about as attractive as foot fungus.

Force An Election?(Poll)

Tonight, we will have another opportunity to defeat the government. I'm curious to get a sense of some of the overall online opinion. I thought I would put up this poll, with one caveat, could people who aren't Liberals, or potential Liberal voters, please not vote. People can freep the poll if they want, but it would be more interesting to see what the faithful, and those inclined, think:

Go With Your Gut

Last night, I was thinking about these attacks ads, set to run at gas stations. I had this idea about a boycott, and even went to post on it, but stopped myself, thinking it might be a stupid suggestion. Today, I click on the computer and find, I was not alone, maybe not stupid afterall. So, with that in mind, here is my two cents on the matter.

The Conservatives have their rapid response people, do the Liberals have the capability to get the message out to riding members in a hurry? If someone becomes aware of a gas station running these ads, then the local riding should be made aware, with an instant mass email to all Liberals in that area. Include the phone number, the address and suggestions to "protest" the running of these ads. You send out an email to 3 or 4 hundred party members, I suspect a few will make a call, show up at said gas station, whatever.

These ads are apparently targetting Ontario, not exactly Conservative country. How much pressure would it really take for an individual gas station to conclude the ads aren't worth the hassle? Couple that with possible media involvement, and running those ads would like economic suicide. If the Liberals could network some kind of co-ordinated response, it is sure to get noticed, with the potential to have these cheesy ads blow up in the Conservatives faces. I'm sure I could get together a few local Liberals, some placards, give the local paper a call and head down to the gas station. "I want gas, not hot air", "Harper in bed with big oil", "Boycott the propaganda pumps". Sounds like fun.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Is It The Tax, Or Who is Proposing The Tax?

It's almost comical, as the Conservatives use all this outlandish language to describe the Liberals "tax shift". Compare this reaction, to the quotes from the main Conservative players, reacting to their buddy Gordon Campbell, and you see a disconnect:
"Contrary to some commentary, the national plan and British Columbia's plan complement each other." Stephen Harper

The "mother of all taxes" is "complimentary"? Interesting.
"British Columbia is a province that takes the climate change issue "seriously, and have moved forward with a variety of initiatives.''

"I don't have a problem with that at all. We've chosen a different path in this regard, but that's fine." John Baird

That's fine? But British Columbia is on a path to economic ruin, how can you offer such tepid response?

""British Columbia may have a different model. It's working, and we'll recognize their contributions, as well." Gary Lunn

It's "working"? Are you suggesting Dion's plan might work too? Who knew?

If you want to expose the Conservative attacks for what they are, simple fear mongering and political posturing, the Liberals might be wise to use the response to British Columbia's plan as evidence.

And, The Attacks Begin

Everyone knew it was coming, and today the Conservatives have officially started their campaign to discredit Dion's tax shifting policy. I've listened to the ads, scheduled to appear right at the gas pumps, among other places. You can view them on the juvenile website, very high quality, very high signal, very typical, very grade eight.

Clearly, a pre-emptive strike, further defining the Liberal plan before it is released, getting ahead of the PR war. The timing is good, if there is one thing on people's mind today, it's rising fuel costs, to some degree a receptive audience. That said, interesting that two and a half years on, the Conservatives have yet to release one ad that is positive in nature. It does start to say something about the messenger too.

On that score, Goldstein's latest column actually has some relevance (monkey and the keyboard?). This will be the first and only time I'll quote him, apart from mocking, but he makes a good point:
TORIES WORRIED

The campaign, designed to reach ordinary voters directly while bypassing media and academic elites, reveals Conservative thinking.

Clearly, they're worried Dion's carbon tax, whenever he releases it, could appeal to voters concerned about global warming, particularly if the Liberal announcement is backed by environmentalists, economists and business groups stressing it will be effective and "revenue neutral," a claim the Tories mock. You don't put this much effort into attacking someone you don't think is a threat.

Finally, the Conservatives haven't been good at explaining their own plans to combat global warming.

Simply mocking Dion without credibly explaining what they'd do instead, could be their Achilles heel.

And, there it is, attacking without an alternative doesn't produce the desired response. The obvious counter, as this debate evolves, the Conservatives are going negative, because they having nothing positive to offer. The Liberals offer a serious plan, while the Conservatives take shots from the sidelines. While the Liberals can present expert opinion to support their ideas, all the Conservatives have is the spectre of trying to yell the loudest, swamping the message, like a declawed bully. I'm not arguing the attacks won't resonate, but when you consider the source, they will be viewed with some suspicion.

How this all plays out is a completely open question. The Liberals are apparently ready to release their own ads to sell the plan, ads which I hope have a more mature argument, one's that give voters a certain measure of respect, as opposed to the Treehouse flavor offered by the Cons.

The big question, obviously, just what exactly that plan will be. Here's hoping that the plan is watered down somewhat, and by that I mean, acknowledgement that the present circumstance is already doing much of what the tax was supposed to achieve. I've already posted on the rapidly changing dynamics on the consumption side, in reality we are already seeing the desired response. A few people have floated a "threshold" idea, wherein any tax only kicks in if fuels drop below a certain level, a level which MUST be well below the current price. In this way, you say to the electorate, no sense piling on now, but there is an acknowledgement that prices will only drop to a certain level. This plan had better be pragmatic, or these attacks will get more mileage than they deserve.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

"They Don't Want An Election"

Don Martin, commenting on the current Conservative posture. As far as I'm concerned, that sentiment tells us all we need to know about whether the Liberals should trigger an election:
"I don't think, since 2006, I've ever seen the Conservatives so nervous about an election as right now. You talk to them, and it's no more of this chest beating testosterone, we'll take them down, we'll crush them on the campaign trails. THEY DO NOT WANT AN ELECTION. The window of opportunity is wide open right now, and I'm telling you right now, if they do this prorogue thing in August....and we don't come back until November or later, the Harper government will have repaired the damage, all this things will be forgotten, their machine will be stronger than ever. The Liberals will be kicking themselves for all of 2009, going why didn't do this in the spring. When you get the Conservatives nervous, when you have the PM tired, I don't know why they aren't doing it."

Don Martin

Martin basically argues what I've said, namely that waiting allows the government to get back on their feet, with the added kicker that they will control the agenda as far as Parliament reconvening.

We now hear talk of Dion being "isolated" on an election call, the vast majority of MP's, the main players in caucus, all in agreement, all showing increased frustration, all wanting an election. In Dion's corner, his advisers and campaign people, which means you have the elected representatives on one side, those that are getting feedback from their riding, and a few Dion loyalists on the other. It is actually quite a scary proposition to think that Dion has little caucus support for his plan, a dangerous situation that could well blow up.
Susan Bonner

"It is going to make for a very interesting summer for the Liberals"

Let's keep it real, Dion's hold is a weak one, he is not immune to another round of questioning quotes and behind the scenes second guessing. To move forward with little support from other influential people in the party, not to mention an unease within the grassroots, raises the spectre of an interesting summer in deed. You provide the window of complete idle, coupled with restlessness, and people's focus could surely wander. Moreover, the signature reasoning, this carbon plan, doesn't seem to enjoy widespread support within the same circles, creating further potential tensions. The question becomes, can Dion afford to wait, or is he on a ledge somewhat alone? I've never heard the word "isolated" used to describe a party leader, and people may be optimistic not to understand what exactly that means.

Reading today's Globe and Mail piece, on this same question, it reads like a tragedy. The silliest argument:
More broadly, one adviser said, Mr. Dion must use the summer not only to sell his green plan, but to hone his skills at communicating it so he can use it to counter Tory attacks that he is a weak leader.

Stephane Dion is what he is, to actually think that he will morph into a "communicator" over the summer is just wishful thinking. We already have all the evidence we require, Dion has been leader for 18 months, and he still reads from a piece of paper in Question Period, looking exactly as he did, this time last year. That isn't Dion's strength, and we've seen enough to resign ourselves to the fact that it is what it is. I suggest another viewing of Dion's dud of a convention speech for anyone who actually thinks Dion possesses any natural aptitude in this regard. I'm not holding my breath for the "honing of skills". Maybe Harper will develop "warmth" too.

Interesting, that last fall when Dion wanted to force an election, the majority was against the idea, now the opposite, with the only consistent element, Dion virtually alone. This fact suggests little confidence in the leader, and his reasonings, which when you jump out of your partisan considerations, is an objective worrying condition. A leader is only in command if he possesses the ability to make people follow, otherwise he is really only a leader in name only, finding hollow comfort in the inner circle bunker, detached from his supposed army.