Sunday, January 29, 2012

New Nanos Poll

The election is YEARS away. The NDP are without a leader. The Liberals just had a Convention, which generally brings about temporary bounces. The public isn't paying attention to federal politics. Don't get ahead of yourself. Polls are bullshit. Did I miss anything? Can we talk now?

The latest Nanos is actually quite interesting, for a number of reasons. Nanos confirms the NDP erosion in Quebec, as well as a bit of a startling decline in Ontario. Nanos also gives the Liberals a support level above the 2008 election result, actually within 8% of the Conservatives, quite amazing given RECENT events. That the Official Opposition is also in third place an unusual occurrence:
Support for the federal New Democrats continues to erode in Quebec and Ontario with the Liberals showing some gains, a new poll has found.

The Conservatives still lead nationally by eight percentage points, but the NDP and Liberals are now statistically tied among decided voters, the Nanos Research poll conducted for CTV and the Globe and Mail shows.

The Tories have 35.7 per cent support, down slightly from December, followed by the Liberals at 27.6 per cent and the Opposition NDP at 25.2 per cent.

Did I mention it can all change suddenly, and we are over three years from an election? Okay good.

Another polls shows the NDP under 30% in Quebec, as well as some evidence that the Liberals are actually picking up some support at their expense. One wonders how the now cementing narrative of real softness in Quebec translates to the leadership race, does Muclair move some fence sitters who see shoring up Quebec as imperative? If the NDP Quebec numbers were stable, the viability of other candidates might not be such an immediate concern, but given worrying numbers, this emerging reality will seep into the leadership discussion, in a more pronounced way.

Isn't it sad that the once great "natural governing party" is now reduced to crowing about a poll that pegs them at Dion era levels? Check, alrighty then.

In recent weeks, I've heard more than one Liberal speak about Rae's future leadership prospects within a commentary that basically says "well, let's see how it goes". I would argue this mentality does exist within the Liberal ranks, which is why polling has practical relevance. Should Liberals continue to show signs of life, a sense of some rebound, it will strengthen the case for Rae as permanent leader, of that I have no doubt. There is also a dynamic of the polls feeding on themselves, a spate of good news, leading to more puff pieces, providing additional propellant.

At the very least, Peter C. Newman's phone isn't ringing off the hook for "insight"...

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Social Media's First "Win"?

My first exposure to the social media world was the Howard Dean campaign. Dean's website "Dean For America"- which later morphed into "Democracy For America"- became a buzzing hub for ordinary citizens to express their opinions in comments, meetups, fundraising. The now massive website Daily Kos was really a spinoff of the Dean campaign, "Deaniacs" moved to this site and it was here that it took off and cemented itself as the Democrats online beehive. I mention this ancient history, because I recall vividly the media wondering if this online expression, this impressive capacity to raise money, would translate to "boots on the ground". Alas, when push came to shove in Iowa, it was acknowledged, online hype wasn't necessarily real world organization, there was a clear disconnect between social media and real world influence. Since 2004, social media has evolved south of the border and here, wherein concrete impact is more and more apparent, it is really a question of scale of influence now.

Prior to the Liberal Convention I wondered if online perceptions would match real world manifestations:
Of interest to me, does the online "hype" surrounding my guy Crawley translate to real delegates, because I see his candidacy as very much social media driven, very much organic in momentum, does that "buzz" manifest into bodies or another example of the cyberworld overstating practical numbers.

I've had this running theory, that social media is still not a core electoral driver, while it has impact, for the general population, it still hasn't reached critical mass. That acknowledgement doesn't dissuade from an emerging influence, just a recognition that "social media" is still evolving, hasn't quite achieved it's potential. However, I do believe social media is quite important when dealing with a narrow, partisan audience of engaged citizens. Enter the Liberal president race, tailor made to see if social media could make a practical difference. Hard core partisans are delegates, these people are online and interconnected, this limited audience ripe for social media expressions.

Brian Klunder, who worked for the Crawley campaign, put up a piece, detailing how social media was a key player for the campaign:
However, the game has changed in the age of social media. The local MP or Senator is just one voice in a new sea of online opinions and recommendations. Watching Twitter at any given time during the campaign told me more about the amount of momentum the Crawley campaign was carrying than any conversation with “key influencers” in politics. With hashtags like #cdnpoli, #lpc, #lpc12 and #lpcprez the level of online engagement during the campaign was stunning. The goal then was to ensure material was being provided that could influence the social media conversation – whether it be through positive media, blogs, supportive tweets or a candidate that actively engaged conversation – each carried the potential of reaching thousands of people. As well, being aware of both the positive and negative issues being shared on Facebook and Twitter allowed us to fine-tune our messaging to address any concerns.

Much of my sense of how the campaign was going was monitoring social media interactions. I would routinely key in Crawley's name to access "buzz", how things were moving around the cyberworld, as stated earlier it was very organic and grassrooty. My impression was things were moving Mike's way, there was a definite online momentum and these people were delegates, a small, but powerful cadre of rank and file Liberals. Yes, Copps had much of the establishement, but Crawley was being propelled by bloggers, tweeters, facebook people, etc, within a narrow audience, it was quite relevant. As an aside, in the final days the media seemed to key in on a two person race, part of which a perception built by social media. I remained sceptical, because we've seen social media fail before, but if ever there was a situation wherein it could tip the balance, a small group of Liberal delegates seemed fertile ground.

I was stunned when Crawley won, rarely do "insurgents" actually win, but he did, and it was close. As someone said to me just after, it was so close, everyone could say they influenced the result, all these little interactions had impact, they actually changed the direction of the party, it mattered. I think it fair to say that, given the numbers, social media very well did "tip the balance" for Crawley, it manifested itself in a practical and important way. There are still challenges for the wider audience, but within this narrow audience, social media was more than just astroturf and "hype", it was real world, real time, momentum expressed in interconnected fashion, feeding itself and a real vehicle for perceived change.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Failure Of Corporate Tax Cuts

Corporate tax cut disciples will ridicule the messenger, Canadian Labour Congress just reeks "enemy of the state", but their study on corporate taxes is largely reliant on third party conclusions, ROCK SOLID empirical manifestations, that deserve consideration. What is presented is a clear and concise picture of the utter failure of corporate tax cuts to deliver the benefits as previously argued. That a large segment of economists and apologists can still play offence on corporate tax cuts is mystifying, given data which is supposed to be the underpinning of their arguments contradicts their entire rationale.

CLC finds the promised investments have never come, in fact we've seen an erosion on this front, DESPITE record profits and cash balances. I am pleased to see the CLC look into corporate dividends, a development I have argued is ripe for reform. The CLC report finds that corporations are simply redirecting their corporate tax cuts "savings" back into shareholder hands, rising dividends siphoning off the cash that was supposed to lead to more reinvestment, further EXACERBATING
the widening societal gaps:
As noted above, corporate tax cuts are not supposed to be an end in themselves. The tradeoff for lower corporate tax revenue was supposed to be higher capital investment leading to higher growth, more and better jobs, and improved productivity. Proponents argue that as companies make more money because tax rates are lower, they will invest more in capital stock. That is to say, they will buy more factories and more computers to make their companies more productive. Canada’s lagging productivity will be pulled up.

Given the significant drop in corporate tax rates since 2000, what effect can be seen? Figure 1 — based on the last column of Table 2 — shows the percentage of profits that have been simply paid out to investors as dividends instead of retained and reinvested in the company. In 2000, corporate Canada was paying out 30% of its profits to shareholders in the form of dividends.

While the effective tax rate has declined significantly since 2000, companies are doing the opposite of investing: they are paying an even larger share of their profits out as dividends. In 2010, for every dollar in after-tax profits, 49 cents was paid out directly to shareholders, and the share was even higher in the recession year of 2009. Much of the increase in after-tax profits coming from corporate tax cuts that corporations said would be invested to boost productivity is, instead, being paid out to those who own dividend-paying stocks in Canada’s largest companies. About one half of all dividends are paid to taxpayers earning more than $150,000 per year.

What you see is a clear regime, where elimination of corporate taxes has lead to increased cash balances which have been redirected to shareholders. Defenders of corporate tax cuts get quite upset when critics point to rising CEO salaries, there is no co-relation, simply a function of a job well done. HOWEVER, CEO's and high ranking corporate officials ALSO have huge stock options, holdings, so any increase in dividends is effectively a big increase in salary. Couple this fact with certain tax regimes on dividends, and it's a big win for corporate executives! Rather than invest, corporations are merely redistributing their riches to themselves and their friends, this fact is irrefutable.

The study finds a 13 billion dollar revenue shortfall in corporate taxes since this government took office. As an aside, I did support some corporate tax cuts- to a level which made us competitive with other nations- that seemed a sound goal given the global economy. CLC confirms what we already know, Canada is now incredibly competitive, perhaps the lowest corporate tax regime, depending on your metrics. What emerges is a policy which has gone too far, balance has been lost, in a irresponsible race to the bottom mentality. Given government's have also incorporated the HST, the entire thrust of which was business friendly, it is fair to ask when enough is enough. There is now a huge revenue shortfall which must be addressed, and unfortunately it looks to be achieved on the backs of ordinary Canadians.

All in the talk in Ottawa these days is about austerity, there WILL be massive public service job cuts. Given there is NO evidence of a private sector job creation offset, we will have a circumstance of NET job losses under this corporate tax cut regime. Proponents will say corporate tax cuts were never argued to create jobs. Accept that assertion as true- the evidence does show no job creation- and you are left with cutting taxes so you can layoff public service employees. That is the sorry bottom line, from which we find ourselves today, no investment, no jobs, job CUTS, the rich getting richer and services under attack. That isn't spin, that is a very coherent reality, supported by all the facts available, while proponents are left to economic theory and "you just wait" proclamations.

The biggest beneficiaries of corporate tax cuts are Canadian banks. Google "bank job cuts" and you will see a consistent pattern over the last decade. Then google "bank dividends" or "bank record profits" and you will see another clear picture. Not anti-bank, not resisting the idea that a strong banking system isn't imperative, merely a realization that BALANCE has been lost, we have lurched so dramatically to one side of the equation that we created an environment which is actually detrimental to the "greater good". Go back in time, review all the arguments for corporate tax cuts, and if you can find any scenario which foresaw record cash flows and profits, massive increases in dividends, at the same time as lagging investment and productivity, job losses, I'm ALL ears.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Red Wave Envelops Canada

Well not quite, but since the name of the game in the short term is perceived viability, Liberals will take the recent spate of polling. Three polls out, all offer similar trends, Liberals will a slight uptick, NDP down, reinforcing recent narratives. Perhaps of biggest concern to the NDP, CROP now pegs support in Quebec at only 29%.

Harris Decima gives the Liberals a 3% rise since their last offering, a now noteworthy 6% rise since the election to 25%. Angus Reid also finds Liberal "gains", up 3% to 22%. Both pollsters also find the NDP support waning since the election. As well HD finds Conservatives support well down, while AR finds their support holding firm. The general trends suggest a Liberal party far from dead, and the NDP failing to solidify their election successes.

We've watched a steady decline in NDP Quebec support for a few months now, but CROP now finds the party below the psychological 30% barrier, which translates into no delusions that the orange wave is in danger of collapse. Much will depend on the next NDP leader, this could be a temporary wane, but these numbers reinforce the notion that Quebec remains a fluid province, the NDP "hold" precarious at best. CROP also finds the Liberals "benefiting most" from the NDP collapse, and while 19% isn't juggernaut status, it's a far cry better than 10% as CROP previously found. People might recall, this Liberal number is more in line with pre-election polling, we hovered within this low 20, high teen range for quite some time. It's all relative so a return to what was considered lowly at the time, is now a positive. Again, a sense of VIABILITY is of chief concern to the Liberals at the moment, just be part of the mix, that's the realistic short term goal in my mind.

Angus Reid also finds Rae doing well, and CROP sees Rae in a deadheat with Harper on the best PM question. Fair to say that Rae's performance is helping the Liberal bottomline and he deserves at least partial credit for the modest recovery. Of note, HD also finds the Liberals in a statistical tie with the Conservatives in Ontario, NDP third, another encouraging number, particularly with "Rae Day" at the helm.

Polls aren't of particular importance right now, as someone will surely point out, "the election is YEARS away", so fixation is meaningless. I agree completely, particularly with two parties yet to pick new leaders, the situation is in flux and no one knows what trends will hold long term. However, perceptions matter, so any indication of momentum is always welcome, as is a sense of eroding support unwelcome. I'm sure the NDP are pleased as punch to answer questions about the need to change strategy in the wake of falling polls. I'm sure the Liberals hate talking about Rae doing well, evidence that news of our death was greatly exaggerated. In other words, poll change, but polls speak to "point in time" discussions and can feed themselves with negative or positive reinforcement.

Liberals are feeling pretty good about themselves coming out of a relatively successful Convention. Numbers that blunt talk of death are welcome indeed, put into the soup and helpful in terms of attitude moving forward. Nothing more, nothing less, with full knowledge there is a LONG, LONG way to go.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What Is With Conservatism And Global Warming Deniers?

Tom Flanagan will carry the Wildrose banner in the next provincial election, running alongside his leader, fellow climate change sceptic Danielle Smith. For a province fighting an intense public relations war over its emissions, having a upstart party riddled with global warming deniers doesn't exactly project a flattering image. Polls suggest Wildrose is at least poised to become the official opposition in Alberta, perhaps challenge the current government. Flanagan believes global warming is a "non problem", Smith thinks we all need to keep an open mind, remain "neutral" while the "robust debate" within the scientific community evolves, this party has become a haven for global warming deniers. How can emissions be taken seriously, if people actually believe there is no problem, concern is bunk?

On the federal scene, Harper uses political correct language now, but we should all remain suspicious. As well, Harper seems to have a penchant for appointing deniers to the Senate, just a random coincidence I'm sure, for a media that refuses to challenge beyond appeasing language. Move to the "grassroots" and you see deniers everywhere, if you challenge global warming, massive odds are come from the right of the spectrum, ditto down south, the correlation is incredibly strong and persistent. Why? Why would a particular perspective on science line up so neatly with political expression?

The right wing tends to support the idea of natural resource exploitation, whereas the traditional left tends to highlight environmental concerns. Part of the denier bent is tied to economic outlook, a natural resistance to anything presented which could curtail free activity. Somehow science has become a partisan consideration, rather than evidence based perspectives, apparently everyone has an angle they are trying to shove down our throats. Never mind that 98% of climate scientists see NO DEBATE, there is a heated debate, sound arguments irrelevant, all that is needed is incoherent counters, providing a warm cocoon for like-minded people.

In many respects the global warming debate has moved from physical science to human psychology, within that discussion at least something constructive. The real debate centers around the right wing and their hostility to objective science, as though a conspiracy created by enemy forces. That's the mentality, this bizarre paranoia that some untrustworthy entity is trying to trick the populous, as part of a deeper philosophical threat. Read the right wing blogs, read the commentary, listen to the code language, it's a freakish reality out there, almost chilling in its reaffirming bubble of denial, there is NOTHING you can present to dissuade, NOTHING. Wingers love to mock the global warming "religion", but really that is projection, their rigidity in the face of scientific retort offers an almost fanatical belief, incapable of incorporating new information, steadfast and stubborn.

Borrowing a John Stuart Mill quote, "conservatives are not necessarily deniers, but most deniers are conservatives". You could also use the real JSM quote, but then you consider that incredibly intelligent people like Flanagan have also joined the cause, and you are left with such a head scratching reality, you realize there is a deeper bias than simple ignorance. Danielle Smith's disarming smile doesn't distract from a dangerous reality, people ascending to positions of power with no grounding in the reality based community, should concern us all. That the global warming debate seems to have fragmented along partisan lines is an alarming development, because now science is just another human actor, it's relevance outside of personal slant in question, an amazing devolution.

Strange days indeed.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Kinsella Is Half Right

Warren Kinsella knows more about politics on his little pinkie than I do on my entire body, so when he offers "advice" to Liberals, it's always worth consideration. In today's column Kinsella actually mirrors Bob Rae, Liberals need to fight back, stand up and respond to the Conservatives, their smear machine and their intellectually pedestrian minions like Taylor:
In politics, rule number one is define or be defined. Conservatives, small and large C, are doing precisely what some of us had warned they would do: They are unearthing unhelpful facts about Bob Rae’s ruinous reign and publicizing them.

They’re doing to Rae what they did, so successfully, to Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff: They’re shaping impressions about Rae before Rae does.

The best strategy, then, isn’t to call for yet more laws restricting legitimate political speech.

The best strategy is to hit first, and twice as hard. Be swift and brutal.

Remind people that Harper moved us from a surplus to a deficit. That he didn’t see the recession coming. That he wants to dismantle health care. That he favours Alberta over other provinces. That he has a far-right SoCon agenda. Whatever you do, progressives, do it now. Don’t wait.

Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff complained about how mean Stephen Harper is, and it got them precisely nowhere.

The best response to nasty attack ads then is simple: Make your own attack ads, fast, and make ’em nastier.

Define or be defined, Liberals are well aware how failure to adhere to Kinsella's rule has cost us DEARLY in the past. Perhaps the party gets it now, efforts to set up a contingency fund to help define the new leader on our own terms. However, that seems a long term strategy, in the immediate, it remains unclear how we do fight back, compete with a well armed opponent. I'm a bit surprised the party hasn't pivoted off the hardly seen NCC ad and used it as a fundraising plea for cash to do just what Kinsella argues, "fight back", send a message, offer a quick response. There is something to be said for the distant third party getting into a tit for tat with the government, this dynamic works on a host of levels.

I agree with everything Kinsella argues, except for the last sentence. "Make 'em nastier", that approach strikes me as potentially outdated. Hear me out. Attack ads do work, I don't dispute that for one second. However, it is also true that voter turnout is on the wane, part of this equation is the "turnoff" factor, the discourse so sullied, nasty, petty, that people are simply tuning out the process. Is a race to the bottom really the best option for the Liberals? In the last election, the one party that attempted to offer positivity seemed to get traction, any Conservative movement really a reaction to the NDP ascension. In the last Ontario election, the PC's were full of piss and vinegar, but the seminal moment for me was Hudak offering an attack instead of "vision" as requested in debate, it highlighted the notion of requiring something more than nastiness.

Liberals need to hit back, we can't just sit back and take shots from ankle biters without a returning kick to the chops coming from our side. That said, I'm not sure the traditional retort is the best option anymore, if one believes in some evolution within the electorate. It's important that any response avoid becoming such a turnoff that the whole affair resembles a mutual destruction society. The best response to cookie cutter attack ads- that offer ZERO imagination- is perhaps a whimsical response, humour, clever without the vitriol. I'm not sure nastier works anymore, if you take the electorate as a whole, clearly they seem unimpressed by the level of discourse. A successful brand moving forward unlocks the new theorem that speaks to want, while simultaneously addressing your opponents shortfalls.

I see the race to the bottom appealling to an ever narrowing audience. It doesn't mean the attack ad isn't effective, necessary, only that people aspire to more than mud slinging, at a certain point it all gets lost in a haze of negativity and disinterest takes hold. I would argue we are in the phase now where apathy and that disinterest needs to be addressed, so the successful parties of the future will be the one's that figure out how to make their arguments, blunt criticisms, without mirroring the familiar opponent techniques. Perhaps that view is naive, but there is empirical underpinning to suggest a new approach could find fertile ground.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Take "Third Party" Advocacy Out Of Canadian Politics

Andrew Coyne's thoughtful piece on political contributions, third party inputs, offers a compromise solution between a purely libertarian view and the interventionist, managed model. I see a disconnect between the philosophy and practical, which challenges the equality Coyne seeks:
In terms of the present argument, they should each be able to spend roughly the same amount on it. That suggests a system based on individual contributions - no union, corporate or government money - and individual contribution limits, much as we have now.

How each chooses to participate, however, should be up to the individual. In particular, whether he chooses to contribute to a political party, or to an advocacy group, or to spend his money directly, it should be no business of the state. Rather than have one system of contribution limits for political parties and another for advocacy groups or individuals, that suggests they should all come under the same umbrella: a global, annual ceiling of, say, $10,000, on the amount an individual could spend on political advocacy - through whatever vehicle. Ideally, you'd donate via the income tax return; even more ideally, anonymously.

I would argue a cap of this form amounts to institutionalizing unfair advantage toward the wealthy. This system wouldn't be an extension of "one person, one vote", it would create tiers, in that those with resources could exact influence on our system, which others simply couldn't leverage in the same capacity. A $10000 cap gives advantage to the wealthy, those without sufficient disposable income simply don't have the luxury to maximize their political contribution under this system. Rather than achieving the fairness sought, what is created is a regime which marginalizes some, at the same time providing disproportionate influence to the affluent.

The libertarian notion strikes me as the ideal, like most tenets within that philosophy it offers simplistic solutions, but in the practical world, becomes so bastardized and exploited, the initial spirit buried to the point of unrecognizable. Coyne tries to square this libertarian want with the other extreme, a total ban on many forms of monetary expression, but the compromise doesn't find equality, it finds more room for uneven influence over our political process.

I see the evolution of political contributions, third party input, leading to one educated place, a learned political existence. A total ban on all third party players, a hard cap on individual donations set at a rate which strives for optimal inclusively, complete disclosure of donors, transparency and heavily scrutinized. Coyne mentions the situation in Ontario, where certain groups have gone after the Progressive Conservatives, I would support a total ban on these activities, no matter your partisan persuasion, set limits from the parties themselves and no augmentation from any third party. It sounds draconian, perhaps it does, perhaps it steps all over individual liberty and free expression, but a full on ban and strict regimes are the only way to ENSURE the true equality other models try to achieve.

Human beings cheat, not all of us live under equal terms, this circumstance leads to certain advantages. As soon as money is allowed into a process- beyond campaign limits, moderate individual contributions- the notion of voter equality is undermined, eroded by those with greater means, creating an uneven discussion and debate. Under the Coyne model, you would have a circumstance wherein ten people could have the power of another hundred, thousand, unless the cap is quite low, you are left with money as power, a situation which ultimately betrays the notion of equality for all, "one person, one vote". The only way to ensure this equality is to effectively ban many activities, in so doing you limit personal expression on a monetary front, but you protect a certain sanctity, no influence equates to equal influence, we are all left to individually express ourselves with nothing than our our commitments, opinions, drive. You care about an issue, you get out and fight for that cause, influence a byproduct of participation in a sense that goes beyond how deep your pockets, but left to the realm of intellectual persuasion. Rather than being shutdown by absurd constraints, we are all created equal in this formula, our words and deeds can extract influence, rather than factors which we can't control.

As soon as you create a system that handicaps participation from any societal subset, you have strayed from the ideal of individual freedoms, which is why the only solution is to eliminate any potential advantage altogether, create a system which favours no one and puts our political debate outside of financial considerations. This system isn't pretty, perhaps it is at odds with individual liberties, but it is fair in it's universal restraint, the field is even for all, it is the only compromise which truly respects "one person, one vote", or at least strives to protect that core political tenet.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Rae On A Roll

For some of us it's possible to separate the dueling Bob Rae story lines, acknowledging success doesn't necessarily equate to rationale for permanent jobs, whatnot. In fact, in reviewing my posts when we were debating Rae for interim Leader, much of the benefits seem to be playing themselves out, he is providing exactly what we all hoped, demonstrating why he was best suited to take the temporary helm and guide Liberals through these tumultuous times. In other words, for myself, and other Liberals I've spoken with recently, not many are terribly surprised that Bob Rae is performing well.

With those qualifiers in mind, I'd like to digest some very encouraging polling for the Liberals, more specifically Bob Rae. A Forum Research poll out today shows the Liberals up modestly to a semi-respectable 25% in the polls, pretty much within the MOE of the NDP at 28%. The Conservatives sit at 35%, slight erosion, but still within their normal fluctuation range. The pollster credits the little Liberal uptick to Rae's performance, which seems entirely plausible, given his high profile and steady leadership.

Perhaps more instructive, the Frank Graves series for iPolitics which looks at approvals for various leaders and finds some remarkable results for Bob Rae. Graves finds:
Rae shows surprising strength for a caretaker presiding over a party with one foot in the grave, at least according to Peter Newman. With 44-per-cent approval, he eclipses the prime minister’s rating and with only 25 per cent disapproval.

A Liberal leader, interim or otherwise, with a high approval, eclipsing the Prime Minister, it's been YEARS since we've seen this dynamic, and even then it was fleeting at best. More remarkable, look at these Rae numbers for Ontario:

Given all our assumptions about baggage in Ontario, that Rae scores so high, his disapproval's so low, really does surprise. Stephen Harper has a full 35% higher disapproval than Bob Rae in Ontario. Nobody can claim Rae is an "unknown", so these numbers are all the more remarkable.

Bob Rae is on a roll, and within that the Liberals are clearly still on the Canadian political radar. Also true, it will become harder and harder to separate the fortunes of the Liberals and Rae, a great job in one capacity will support arguments for the permanent role, the two are now intertwined. I believe Liberals must tread carefully with the overlapping stories and just enjoy the encouraging signs.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Staggered Primaries Revisited?

At the Convention, Liberals voted against the proposal to hold five staggered regional primaries. Liberals also voted to allow "supporters" the right to participate in the leadership process. Given, the initial rationale for the supporter inclusion was woven within this idea of primaries, it's fair to say the Convention provided a confusing result. As it stands now, all Liberal members and supporters will vote on one day, in essence a national election. However, I note that immediately following this vote, some indications coming from the Liberal Party that the issue of staggered primaries might not be dead yet.

It is worth considering, 58% of delegates did vote for the staggered primary option, and although that failed to meet the 2/3rd requirement, it still represents a healthy majority. This fact does provide a certain "legitimacy", the idea did find wide support amongst the assembled delegates, which may be important moving forward, should "revision" arise.

As I understand it, the party will now constitute a Leadership Vote Committee, made up of two co-chairs, the National President, two persons elected from the PTA's, two representatives appointed from Caucus and "another number of other members" appointed by the co-chairs. The mandate of the LVC is as follows:
The Leadership Vote Committee is responsible to plan, organize and carry out the Leadership Vote.

I view the above as fairly ambiguous, but also demonstrating the potential to implement staggered primaries. Given the Convention didn't specifically endorse one primary, there appears certain latitudes, this group will have CONSIDERABLE power as they develop a formal leadership process. Staging one national primary will be a huge logistical endeavour, perhaps that angle will be provide another motive for more "manageable" regional primaries.

I expect to see some form of staggered primaries to be at least considered. The fact there is a naked majority underpinning allows for some democratic justification (although I understand it was defeated based on required support). I do believe there was some "confusion" as to this voting process, and frankly I'm not sure why the two questions of supporter vote and primaries were separate questions, given they were initially considered as parts of a alternative hole. I don't believe this primary question is over and Liberals would be wise to keep an eye on their Leadership Vote Committee as we move forward...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Marijuana: Liberal Canary In Coal Mine

An overwhelming majority, 77% of committed Liberal delegates voted to legalize marijuana. As well, if you do the math on the demographic delegate breakdown, you'll find that even if one assumes every young Liberals voted in favour, you are still left with almost 2/3rds of the remaining delegates in favour. In other words, no matter how your dissect this vote, Liberals of all subsets support this policy, creating a firm resolve. In addition, not only did our interim Leader resist shying away from the vote, Rae embraced it and placed legalization at the center of "war on drugs" debate.

Liberals rejected the idea of removing a leader veto over policy, so the future party structure philosophy remains unclear. However, I now view the marijuana issue as the canary in the coal mine so to speak, how this issue is treated heading into the next election will provide the clearest indication if a formerly top down entity has truly "renewed" and "reformed". The base have made their voices heard, a voice which is not out of step with progressive society as a whole. It is fair for EVERY Liberal to now have an expectation that marijuana legalization will be part of future Liberal policy, should that fail to transpire, people can rightly ask if members are nothing more than robotic bank machines, patted on the head, but nothing of real consequence in the affairs of party direction.

There has been some mention of actively soliciting "supporters", using this issue as a lure of sorts. I agree with an aggressive strategy, as Rob Silver pointed out this is a classic "wedge" issue, one the Liberals can use effectively to contrast crime strategies, as well as certain libertarian issues. The marijuana issue is larger than just pot itself, the tentacles of that approach resonate elsewhere. I think Liberals may well shock themselves at how many "supporters" can be attracted, simply based on this particular perspective. This is a way for non-partisan Canadians to say "hey Liberal Party, I agree with you, I SUPPORT your idea, I'll lend my name to the cause".

Moving forward, it is imperative to hold the Liberal Party to account, to push the envelope, to push our new executive to follow through on their commitments. How the Liberals manage the marijuana issue is now a central indicator that will demonstrate, in concrete form, if this has truly become a member-centric institution or remains a timid, top down affair, wherein the rank and file are dismissed in the ways that truly matter. I'm leaving the banner on the sidebar as symbolic of this potential future tension, the members who have kept this listing tub afloat have spoken, loud and clear.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Green Shoots

It's important to not get carried away, after all you're in a room full of the faithful, one would hope to see some bravado, simply as a by-product of natural self interest. That said, for all the talk of a moribund party, the Liberals managed to bring in an impressive number of delegates, perhaps more encouraging a decidedly younger crowd than what I noted last time around. The mood was healthy and the end product does support the "change" mantra, even if the results were uneven.

I was surprised a few times at this convention. Particularly, when I heard the announcement "Crawley" for party President, I was genuinely stunned. Perhaps it was the buzz just prior to official announcement that Copps had won- my own sense of the room- but I never truly allowed myself to believe a generally status quo party could make this leap, especially against such a deeply rooted opponent. The closeness of the race speaks to how easily a different narrative could have emerged, but it also provides a testament to how much every vote matters, every conversation, every discussion back and forth, those "hallway" interactions were key. As a supporter of Mike, I look forward to his tenure and hope he makes good on his reform minded pledges.

As the convention unfolded, there seemed a very general sense that the "supporter" addition would fail, nobody I spoke with actually believed the new designation could get the 2/3rds support. I was a supporter of opening up the party in this serious way, but even I offered little resistance when confronted with negativism. And yet, the change was adopted, perhaps the most crucial reform to come out of this convention. Worth noting, I don't think this idea would have achieved the required 2/3rds had it not been for an impassioned plea just prior by Mr. Rae, I have little doubt that moved the room in a empirical way. As well, for those who argued membership should matter, Liberals rejected the idea of allowing "supporters" to participate at the local riding election level, so some condolence for that side.

The second half of the "supporter" addition revolved around this idea of Liberal primaries. In adopting this stipulation, Liberals agreed to let "supporters" vote for the party Leader, but there was another shoe to drop as the votes continued the next morning. Liberals rejected the idea of staggered, regional primaries, even though 58% favoured the concept, it didn't achieve the required support. I'm disappointed this idea failed, because I view it as tethered to the "support" vote, much of the rationale for opening up was to create this exciting dynamic, but now we will have one national vote, eliminating much of the potential drama. As an aside, I note Lawrence Martin on Cpac last night mentioned "confusion" over this question coming from party officials, some suggestion the issue wasn't quite dead yet, so stay tuned...

I would have liked to see the Leader's veto over policy dropped, and I felt the conversation around this issue was fairly muted, perhaps it got lost in the maze of resolutions. For example, on the question of marijuana legalization, the room of committed partisans was quite CLEAR, one would hope any future leader appreciate where his/her party sit on this issue and show some respect to grassroot want. I note, Bob Rae not only didn't shy away from the question but embraced it during his closing speech, soliciting massive cheers as he did.

I'm one who believe optics matter, not so much as it relates to press coverage, but moreso the general audience that gets information from the conduit. I sense that the Liberals have done the brand some favours, new faces, the idea of generational change, the word "open" a crucial evolution, it all congeals into something of consequence. I view the Convention as the first move in a long, laboured process. Soon, we will move to the leadership question in a more focused way, and here we hopefully cultivate more ideas, discussion. I'm not afraid of "messiah" talk, because the messenger is of paramount importance, leaders are vehicles for movements. In many respects, our current predicament is "freeing", and within that reality, I hope a true modernizing, reformist viewpoint can emerge and resonate. One thing is clear, Canadian apathy is a testament to a certain political void, I am more optimistic today that the Liberal Party can perhaps fill it. Time will tell.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

You're In, You're Out, You're Out, Carry On

Did you hear Bob Rae's rousing speech to caucus today? Was there any doubt that is sounded very much like a guy ready to go for the permanent Liberal leadership job? A interim leader doesn't need to defend an ancient record, unless of course that record could be used against his future aspirations.

Let's go back in time, there were stipulations put in place for the interim leader because many rightfully foresaw unique advantages that job would afford, ultimately a unfair advantage in the race for a permanent Liberal leader. We can quibble over those stipulations when Rae took the job, but there is no doubt he accepted those provisions at the time, and in so doing those with concerns "stood down" so to speak.

I'm not surprised Bob Rae has been successful in his current role, matter of fact I outlined his assets when I argued why he really was the perfect choice for this interim position. However, the judgement of his job to date takes on a different tone when one looks at the longer picture, when one considers all the previous hesitations. The interim leader has massive advantages, they can use party donations, our donations that supports staff, tours, to build a network, to make their case, to influence, to build a formidable wall of support. As well, they can use the interim position itself as a pulpit, that essentially DWARFS all others. In reality, what we see now, Rae in great position, is a testament to the very advantages we all outlined when this issue first arose.

I really, really, really like Bob Rae. Truth be told, I might even be inclined to support him for a permanent role, even with the BAGGAGE I've mentioned time and again. However, that viewpoint is really irrelevant to the underlying moral imperative here, namely that if Bob Rae really does want this job- and that speech today is the clearest signal yet- he OWES it to the membership to come clean, give up the end game here and resign his position immediately, in the interest of full disclosure. Should Rae stay on, we can only conclude he doesn't have aspirations, because a man of his moral compass must surely see the conflict of interest here, it is PLAIN AS DAY to anyone with a rational perspective.

The time has come for Bob Rae to sign a legally binding document that precludes his run for permanent leader OR the time has come to dispense with the intrigue, the out clause language, and just make intentions known once and for all. Pretty simply, you're in, you're out, you're out, carry on.

Radicals And Learned Responses

Even if the Conservative argument is true, that we've reached a point where environmental review processes are bogging down economic development, it's an after the fact assertion, rather than a fair read of present reality. One must cleanse their mind of any historical context to even begin to comprehend the Conservative position, it simply fails to comprehend we've reached this point for a reason.

There was a time when companies acted with complete and utter regulatory impunity. What occurred within this environment, they TRASHED the environment, the destroyed ecosystems, their one concern was money, they acted as amoral entities, they UTTERLY failed to show any environmental stewardship. In reaction, society created certain "checks- some would argue not enough still today- because companies couldn't be trusted to "do the right thing" unilaterally, they needed laws, rules and oversight, like an impulsive child, guidance was required. See, companies like to cut corners, if there is a decision to be made regarding greater good and selfish desire, HISTORY has shown a consistent pattern. Government "intervention" in the free economy is nothing more than a learned response, had corporations properly policed themselves, things such as "public consultations" wouldn't be required. To be a Conservative these days seems to demand a certain naivety about human nature, a simplistic world that bears no resemblance to practical expression.

I note today a story on another Enbridge leak, the timing instructive, because a small reminder that empty promises made by corporations are just that, a seasoned society realizes that mistakes do happen, the sales line rarely meets the reality, so the question becomes: can we afford human errors, can we trust profit driven entities? Corporations today LOVE to tout their environmental records, their advancements, their commitments, their emerging "green" philosophies. Trouble is, these supposed revelations didn't come unilaterally, if anything the by-product of demands from "radicals" and government regulation. Reasonable people understand this fact, not trying to harm the economy, but the realization that things we do can harm the environment and the consequences CAN overshadow any short term gain.

When we hear of a pipeline that will snake through mountains and earthquake zones, only to end up at a challenging sea passage, it is fair to be concerned, not only are questions required, they should be DEMANDED by any reasonable observer. Perhaps these factors explain why British Columbians are "divided" over the project, there are many competing interests in play, it's a complicated proposition. The only "radical" predisposition I can ascertain is those that vilify people with genuine concerns, based on a dubious track record from proponents. If projects are getting "bogged" down in the review process, the blame for the current state rests SQUARELY with those that have failed to act ethically, responsibly in the past, those that have actually harmed the environment, those that are doing it as we speak. "Radical" apparently means anyone with a capacity to incorporate history and understand human nature. We don't trust corporations, we don't believe their promises, this is a learned response, based on their continual failures, that's why we're here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why The Lise St-Denis Defection Matters

Everyone spinning this story, perhaps this post is more of the same, but I think today's "defection" of an NDP MP to the Liberals has some significance. I admit, I was absolutely stunned to hear these rumours this morning, there is just nothing intuitive to the idea that the Liberals could pickup a MP from the NDP, particularly from Quebec of all places. However, the Liberals have snagged a NDP MP from Quebec, and while Rae is right to say don't "exaggerate" the meanings, this move isn't inconsequential either.

I look at this story in terms of optics and narratives. Here we have a party fighting for its life, relegated to almost an afterthought in the Commons, appearing a viable option to someone from a party supposedly on the rise, "one step" from government. In addition, the geography is interesting as well, because the Liberals are nowhere in Quebec at the moment, whereas the NDP hold the lion's share of MP's, there is simply NO easily ascertained advantage in jumping to the Liberals. A head scratcher no matter how you cut it, rationales aside, this sends a clear signal that the NDP are still on precarious perch, the Liberals obviously down but perhaps not out.

The NDP have seen their support in Quebec erode as of late. As well, most objective observers have seen a less than impressive expression in Ottawa, partially because of the leadership race, but that doesn't tell the whole story. There is still very much a lingering doubt that the NDP are "for real" so to speak, therefore declining polls, pedestrian performance as Official Opposition, tend to feed that apprehension. Today's floor crossing is simply more ammunition for this perspective, another item for the ledger, that suggests the NDP aren't the firm alternative to the current government that they wish to convey. In fact, the Liberals have outperformed the NDP to date in Parliament, perhaps this professionalism and steady work ethic contributed to this decision(I found St-Denis' policy rationales less than convincing in totality). Whatever, the overarching conclusion, the down on their luck Liberals somehow managed to attract a MP to the fold, something I doubt the most seasoned observer ever pondered.

Liberals now head to our Convention with wind in our sails. Any talk of "death" now temporarily muted, and I'm sure St-Denis will be welcomed as a conquering hero, a terrific shot in the arm, no doubt about it. This defection should offer no distraction to the daunting work ahead, but it does speak to a certain resilience.

Score one for the zombies. And, if you still doubt this defection doesn't matter, I quick read of our opponents reaction should convince you otherwise. The NDP on the wane finds concrete example, the Liberals "still not dead" finds further confirmation, and a sense that things are still very much in flux in Canadian politics. We'll take it.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Hypocrisy Chronicles

There is nothing a conservative likes to ramble on about more than the idea of fiscal restraint, belt tightening, the need to make organizations lean and mean, competitive, bang for the buck, yadda, yadda, yadda, red meat for minions, a mantra for a movement, it's how many people define themselves politically. What I find FASCINATING, how this supposed underpinning of fiscal conservatism seems to be a partisan consideration, rather than true "ideal", the reaction can go from blind fury to utter indifference, depending on the subject matter.

Today, another story on the Harper government's spending habits, wherein the consistent theme of preaching one thing to others doesn't equate to internal behaviour. In fact, what we see is the most maddening of realities, a government that has the audacity to lecture Canada about the need for "austerity" at the same time they are racking in RECORD expenditures. The latest:
The number of staff hired to advise and consult with the prime minister has grown to unprecedented levels under Stephen Harper’s watch, despite his stated objectives to cut costs and balance the budget...

The largest Privy Council Office in Canadian history, surpassing those "dirty Liberals" these charlatans used to rail against! The hilarity knows no bounds, partially rationalized in the article by personnel needed for the Economic Action Plan, which really means we needed more people for government self promotion.

Speaking of self promotion, a more powerful pattern emerges when you see the utterly OBSCENE increase in government advertising, fully THREE times that of the previous Liberal government:
In a press release distributed Thursday, the Ontario MP cites a new report which shows government-wide spending on advertising more than tripled since the Conservatives first won power, growing to $136.3-million in 2009-10 from $41.3-million in 2005-06.

Factor in many outside observers feeling this government has taken advertising to a partisan level never seen before, and you have a picture of a Canadian public taken for an expensive ride in the name of self interest. Again, austerity for others, absolute reckless spending for themselves, sheer hypocrisy, a word that is over used but entirely warranted in this instance.

This government has increased spending in the Prime Minster's Office, they have a record staff in the Privy Council, they're off the charts when it comes to self promotion, no matter which measure you choose, there is simply no evidence of personal "austerity", rather that of people out of control, acting with impunity, shafting taxpayers for naked self interest.

And yet, Jim Flaherty can lecture the world on the need for austerity, Stephen Harper can STILL solicite donations from fiscal conservatives, the Conservatives can STILL get on their soapbox and speak with CONVICTION about protecting the taxpayer. A more amazing spectacle, you'll rarely see.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Liberals And Mayans

I actually have very tempered expectations heading into the Liberal Convention. Truth be told, there is a good chance Liberals emerge from Ottawa with not much to show on the "renewal" front. It remains to be seen if anything of substance will be adopted or signals sent on the "personnel" front. In addition, I sense some emerging opinion that lack of real change isn't necessarily a bad thing, reform for the sake of it isn't inherently advantageous. Read a Tom Clark for example, and you wonder if people have incorporated the last few elections, apparently "oblivion" starts if we reform next week, as opposed 2004, 2006, 2008, 2011(my Mayan calendar started years ago). I find perspectives like Clark's bizarre, even though there is a rationale, it reeks of the "penalty box" mentality, which assumes time is our friend, just sit tight.

If I had to handicap the Liberal president race, I'd still consider Copps the front runner. Of interest to me, does the online "hype" surrounding my guy Crawley translate to real delegates, because I see his candidacy as very much social media driven, very much organic in momentum, does that "buzz" manifest into bodies or another example of the cyberworld overstating practical numbers. What is clear, this race is very much shaping up as the "insurgent vs the old guard", that's your narrative, that's your frame, expect post-Convention digestion to view the vote within these parameters. Should Copps emerge victorious, the symbolism will be there and it will make a statement to the wider non-partisan audience.

When you look at the reforms proposed, there is some element of radical moves, but also much that isn't. The "primary" proposal might not fly, I sense some hesitation, but even if it does, the requirement of signing up as a supporter, filling out a form, declaring, this process still provides a "closed" flavour, it is not opening up the door in a radical way, it just makes it SLIGHTLY easier to be a Liberal of sorts. I favour the "supporter" designation, but it's inclusion is really a pedestrian step, because apart from paying a small sum- which was never a big financial barrier- the process doesn't really change. Where the primary idea looks particular attractive is the novelty aspect, which will generate attention. But, when it comes down to the details, participation will still be limited and involve much of the past, in terms of what is required to come in and vote.

I'm also sensing some reservations about limited the leader's power to influence policy. In reality, when it comes to appointing candidates, our choice is a strange one indeed, the leader gets a quota of sorts and within that still retains his "power". We can argue whether that appointment retention is good or bad, but nobody can claim adoption would be revolutionary. On the policy front, I do see real reform, should we vote for these resolutions, it will help to transform inputs and the hierarchical discussion. Again though, does this reform pass?

My overall point, Liberals could well leave Ottawa with Copps as their president, a couple tinkering reforms and much abandoned. Everyone does there own deduction whether or not that scenario is a good or bad, but for all the talk of renewal, it is quite possible we leave with the old guard candidate at the helm and a short on true "bite" reform agenda. I don't favour change for it's own sake, frankly a few ideas proposed are flawed. However, I also understand the power of optics and the fact Liberals won't meet again for a couple of years. For that reason, I think it imperative every Liberal fast forward to the end of this convention and envision what message we want to convey coming out of Ottawa, what's your desired headline, because that consideration isn't irrelevant. Symbolism matters, and rather than see oblivion on the horizon, I live in the post-apocalypse world, it already happened :)

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Leader Knows Best

There are some healthy "renewal" proposals to vote on at the Liberal Convention. And, there is one change in particular that is so watered down that it amounts to institutionalizing the leaders power, not curbing it as advertised:

This proposal doesn't sit well, this leader appointment "quota" is supposed to be some improvement, advancement? I don't have the exact numbers for past elections, but allowing our leader to select a full 20 candidates doesn't equate to democratizing the party from this quarter.

In a true democratic party, NO individual should be ordained from the top, they should have to demonstrate their CHOPS, compete for member votes, provide a presence in the riding they want to represent, participate and engage with the grassroots. This proposal is actually insulting on many levels, because it provides two tiers of standard bearers, those selected by riding members and those IMPOSED on riding members with a "father knows best" flavour. If someone is truly a "star" candidate, surely the leader can visit the riding, make the case for she/he, work to get their choice nominated, let that person demonstrate to the great unwashed that they are a person of merit, a real coup to even have in the party.

This amendment looks like some sort of bastardized compromise, in formally "curbing" the leader's ultimate power to appoint, we've come up with a quota that enshrines the practice. Our leader can only appoint 25% of candidates in a particular province, posited as though this is progressive. Taken further, history tells us the leader generally appoints in FAVOURABLE ridings, so 20 KEY people that have a decent shot at becoming an MP are given a free pass, shoved right passed the membership. People put before the wider electorate without much advance knowledge of their positions, there ability to work a room, interact and engage. Having no personal relationship with ridings we are supposedly "empowering", said appointment may or may not jive with the locals, we really have no idea how that relationship will work, very much a forced marriage of sorts.

This amendment reeks of more elitism, it contradicts all the proposals which look to give local members more say in the process. One is hard pressed to find a more grassroots democratic expression than a local riding nomination, it is a core undercurrent that maintains a healthy debate. Giving our leader this almost obscene power to dictate isn't representative of a "modern" political party, of the type Liberals want to project. Instead, this particular amendment fleshes out top down hierarchy, it is regressive, paternalistic and anti-democratic, no matter how you cut it. I'd rather have NO proposal, status quo, open ended appointment power, then this ruse presented as some sort of reform.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Watershed Moments

I must admit, I'm pleasantly surprised how the Liberals have managed to keep themselves in the news, despite a NDP leadership race and the obvious struggles for a third party. As a matter of fact, I think you could cobble together a fairly convincing argument that the Liberal Party is where the "action" is at the moment, a thought I wouldn't dare conceive of only a couple months ago. There is a small undercurrent of momentum, and this perception and interest is being driven by this emerging spirit of reform within the party. Much of this conversation, will come to a "head" so to speak as we Liberals gather in Ottawa next week, although really that is just a starting point.

Ibbitson column today asks the relevant question:
Will the delegates take the risks needed to fundamentally renew a gravely damaged political brand? Or will the old guard undermine reform in the interests of protecting what little turf is still left to them?

Based on conversations with people who spoke candidly in exchange for anonymity, the news for Liberals is mostly encouraging.

I would take it one step further and say who we elect as well, a clear signal moving forward, hardly trivial or "inside", but a overarching statement. There will be much decided during this convention, as you can clearly see in the many proposals put forth. Liberals can differ on what proposals they favour or reject, but there is the capacity for significant reform, of the type that can begin to revolutionize the party. I see many of these proposals, candidates, as laying the framework for a true reformist practicality moving forward, a certain playing field ripe for potential activism. As well, the potential for a culture that still has a necessary hierarchy, but is inclusive and egalitarian in many regards, sending a clear message that we have a representative party, modern in scope and welcoming. It is here that Liberals can start to engage lost generations, the slow rot could be reversed. I am in no way saying reforms will lead to true electoral revival, only that there is more potential for a resurgence should we implement, than sticking with old imagery and mostly the status quo.

Many proposals will fail, not all are sound or wise, bu the debate they've generated is healthy and productive. My hope is we come out of Ottawa with certain reforms in place, something beyond window dressing, show Canada that the Liberal Party has the capacity for internal reform. Liberals need new faces, new veins to mine and modernized approaches to Canadian politics. If we get the nuts and bolts right, I suspect we shall see compelling policy and people come forth in the months ahead, this could well be an exciting and inspiring period.

Let's see what happens, the question Ibbitson asks is a key one...