Wednesday, June 30, 2004

If I think Alberta politics are exciting, am I a loser?

Colby Cosh has a post tonight that hits on so many different aspects of Alberta politics in 2004, it demands a reaction from the bottom of the province. The present hyperventilating on Rutherford, AC.com, etc. about Western separatism also requires some comment.

This will happen in the next couple of days. For now, I will simply say, Gary Masyk is indeed an idiot, and his defection is in NO WAY a sign of Alberta Alliance momentum. The Ralph Klein version of Alberta "conservatism" may well have run its course; and there may well be a party that sneaks up his (or rather his party's) right flank in the not-too-distant future. However, as someone who would plausibly be inclined to support such a party: the AA and Randy Thorsteinson aren't it.

Splashing in the bath water

I spent my available parts of yesterday afternoon posting on Andrew Coyne's blog instead of my own. The gist:

* Albertans: SLOW...YOUR...MOTOR...DOWN (link)

There is a Conservative constituency in the Rest Of Canada; the CPC just has to sell it better. (link)

Single-issue voters only exist when they perceive that there is only a single, or very few, issues where the parties differ. (link)

This result is certainly no worse than previous for voters of the right. And P.S.: Scott Brison is cynical, intolerant, and mean. (link)

A rehash of my firm belief that the CPC need to do better at distinguishing themselves from the Natural Governing Party. (link)

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Balls!

It appears the entire contingent of Sun columnists is flogging the same horse - this notion that the Conservatives' problem was that they were insufficiently able to distract the electorate from the fact that many of them are, well, conservatives.

Neil Waugh points directly at Ralph; Paul Jackson (simmer down pal) has the tar and feathers out.

The normally sensible Greg Weston:
Months ago, a wise Tory political strategist summed up the electoral prospects of the new Conservative Party as follows: "If we can make the election about them (the Liberals), we may have a chance. If it is about us, we are dead."

I see no possibility for improvement in the next election if this remains the conventional wisdom in the CPC. There is a better way.

UPDATE 2:37PM: The Western Standard, and its blog Shotgun, are a little on the smug & righteous side for me (an honor generally reserved for Mansbridge & friends). However, I see Paul Tuns has correctly interpreted the election results in five clear sentences. I couldn't have said it better myself, and in fact, I didn't.

The opportunity is still there

I'm glad I didn't post last night. Besides being drowned in half a vat of Kokanee, the immediate reaction to an election that doesn't go your way is anger - specifically anger at the people who didn't vote your way. Much beer + severe irritation + a blog = writing something you will regret, maybe painfully. Luckily, I'm not an angry guy by nature, so I woke up this morning with a modest hangover and a slight feeling of depression. Even that didn't last long. The depression that is, not the hangover.

I've spent part of the morning mulling which was worse: the Flames losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals after being up 3 games to 2, or the CPC losing by 35 seats to the Liberals after being projected to win by 10 or so seats (on average). Conclusion: it all sucks. Amazingly, although I had $10 on the Flames to win the Cup at 85-1, it is actually the election loss that's going to cost me more money, and probably you too.

On The Sports Guy's Levels of Losing, I see the election result as mostly a Stomach Punch, with a bit of The Achilles Heel and a healthy contribution from The Monkey Wrench.

Reading through the post-mortems in the papers, there are two essentially opposing schools of thought on What Went Wrong. I cringe at that characterization, because relative to the day the writ was dropped the CPC made significant gains, and Inkless reminds us that to suggest otherwise is cheap revisionism. However, stating that the CPC could have been much more successful in exploiting Liberal vulnerability is no such suggestion.

The first take, as summed up by Licia Corbella, is that too many Conservatives "strayed off message", and they failed to keep the focus on Liberal corruption. The second, as suggested by Andrew Coyne (eventually), is that putting all the focus on the Liberals and corruption, without adequately promoting their own platform, was their undoing.

I am wholeheartedly and stubbornly behind the second take. Considering that the CPC hasn't even existed long enough to have a policy convention, they deserve some leeway, but the central truth of the matter is: portraying your party as Liberals who aren't the Liberal Party is short-sighted, uninspiring, and ultimately ineffective.

Below is a letter I wrote on February 19th to, coincidentally, Licia Corbella and Andrew Coyne, addressing the question, "How does the CPC take advantage of this opportunity?". With the benefit of hindsight, I am even more certain of my central thesis. Judge for yourself.

The strategies being presented to meet this challenge invariably center around a couple of themes:
(1) Make sure the scandal isn't allowed to fade into the background
(2) Show our candidates as moderate alternatives to the status quo

To be brief: wrong, wrong, wrong! Although logical on the face, these strategies are wrong; partly because they won't work, but mostly because the opportunity available right now is too important to waste on a mere change in the name of the governing party.

The scandal WILL fade, right or wrong - there is no need to let it go completely, but to have 90% of Conservative face time on TV used up by vicious partisan attacks would be a waste. And as for aiming for a totally benign perception for the party - it hasn't worked, it doesn't work, and it won't work.

Stockwell Day attempted to present his major policies and plan for governing (health care, EI, debt & deficit, etc.) as mainstream; similar but different from the Liberals. The conventional wisdom after the 2000 election was that he failed – Ontario voters weren't ready to vote for such a radical change. Incorrect; in fact, he succeeded, too well. Instead of the pundits analyzing a proposed sea change in Canadian government, they were left to seize on his religious beliefs, as well as capital punishment, abortion, and other issues peripheral to the business of governing.

The Conservative strategy for success in the upcoming election should be to present an intelligent, achievable, important vision for governing Canada, and defend it vigorously. Damn the “mainstream media” and go for it, and the voters will believe. It is the only way to both win an election and have a mandate for change.

Even if one is not persuaded that the Conservatives can only win by presenting measurably new and different ideas from the Liberals, consider this: who was in a better position, Mike Harris in 1995, or Dalton McGuinty in 2003? Harris had the mandate to initiate the Common Sense Revolution, and ignore the cries of the unions, the CBC, and all the others with a vested interest in the unsustainable status quo. McGuinty wanted to be all things to all people, so that anyone disenchanted with the Tories for any reason would support him. The result was that Mike Harris was reelected four years later, while McGuinty’s present status would have to be upgraded to qualify as no-win.

Notwithstanding the Quebec ad scandal, the present political climate is ripe for an electoral headslap to the Liberals, especially in Ontario (thank you again, Mr. McGuinty). It would be a travesty to waste this opportunity by campaigning toward the mere purpose of getting elected. It would be doubly tragic to fail without presenting a new and important vision.


Monday, June 28, 2004

Wrap-Up: Don't make me come over there...

That's it for my List of 10. Link to the elements here:

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Preamble.

I stand by my assertion that if the Conservatives attempt to govern tentatively, or to use Coyne's phrase, "Like they want to run the Liberal machine for themselves," they will go down in flames. There's already a party perfectly qualified to run the Liberal machine, and they're better at it than Harper ever could be.

Further, if they devote themselves entirely to uncovering old Liberal waste and corruption, to the exclusion of all else, it will hurt them in the next election. They need to present a positive legislative agenda, and dare the other parties to oppose it. None of my 10 suggestions will provoke widespread public rebellion; in fact, if intelligently and confidently tabled, average Canadians will look at the loudest protesters and realize, "They're looking after their interests, not mine." Mike Harris got re-elected for a reason.

As such, I offer a personal plea to Stephen Harper:

Today, I am voting for your candidate in my riding. I voted for you as the new CPC leader. I voted for you as the Canadian Alliance leader. I voted CA once and Reform twice before that, including 1993 in Kingston, when I knew my guy was coming in 4th. At age 15, in Social Studies 10 at Sir Winston Churchill High School, we had a mock secret ballot for the 1988 federal election. The Reform Party got 1 vote out of 31 for our Calgary West candidates. That voter was me, and that candidate was you. To put it mildly, I've been a supporter.

I understood and agreed that some of the Alliance/Reform policies had to be ditched or moderated to enable the merger with the PCs. I support the big tent, and not as a way to conceal a hidden agenda or any such blather.

All that said: I expect that if you become Prime Minister, minority be damned, you will lead the government without fear, and you will champion your just and correct principles; reducing our tax burden, slowing the growth of government, and giving us more freedoms than you take away. If you fail to do so, I will never, ever, vote for you or your party again.

Good luck sir.

#1: Ditch the elections gag law

There are several reasons why I believe eliminating the third-party election spending limits should be priority #1 for a Conservative minority, and not just that it's my primary irritation and high horse.

1) It might be difficult. The limits were mostly supported when enacted, including by all three of the other parties in the house. I suspect now though, especially in a free vote, that the Liberals might support eliminating or increasing the limits (see next reason). Proposing the elimation of the restrictions would demonstrate that Harper is not going to simply govern down the path of least resistance.

2) It is not self-serving. Most any group you can identify who might have advertised during this election but were not permitted, they are generally supportive of the Liberal way (public service & health unions, the Canadian culture people, etc.). Proposing the elimination of the restrictions would demonstrate that Harper will be governing to benefit all Canadians, despite possible harm to the Conservative Party.

3) It is Harper's unquestioned personal belief. Harper's name was on the lawsuit for pete's sake - it would be tough to convince us that now, he doesn't think it's such a big deal. Proposing the elimination of the restrictions would demonstrate that Harper's principles are not subject to political expediency, and that what he considered a fundamental freedom 4 years ago, and 6 months ago, he still considers fundamental.

4) It will do no harm. There is not an iota of evidence that Canadian voters have ever been brow-beaten into voting a certain way by a massive ad blitz. The results of the Charlottetown referendum, or the near-tie in the 1995 Quebec vote where "Non" outspent "Oui" 10 to 1, could be interpreted to suggest the opposite.

5) It's the right thing to do. Does even Democracy Watch think this was fairer and better than previous campaigns, in the absence of third-party advertising? I've hit this ad nauseam, but this campaign we were limited to hearing the opinions and spin of:
a) the political parties, and
b) CanWest Global, Bell Globemedia, and the Corpse
Expecting Big Media to give us all sides of the story, with balance, is ridiculous and unfair. Let's look at the Charter: hey, it says that the press is free! Nothing in there about neutrality, or being fair and balanced, or anything of the sort!

Give us a voice back, show us you have principles, and show us that you will do what is right, not what is easy.

See the preamble to this list.
Go to #2.

#2: Cut personal income taxes

I can't for the life of me figure out why the Conservatives weren't banging this proposal like a cheap drum for the whole campaign (I think we all heard about plenty about the unholy trinity of Waste, Corruption, and Mismanagement). Apart from the fact that no one believes a word he says, this is Paul Martin's weakest spot. PM claimed, in response to the CPC announcement of their platform, that cutting taxes would be irresponsible and un-Canadian. Or put another way, "The federal government needs all the money we collect."

This statement is obvious balderdash to any Canadian who has:
A) heard of Adscam, the gun registry, Bombardier, HRDC, etc.
B) ever dealt with the government or walked through one of their offices

The best way to ensure that the government doesn't waste our money is to give them less of it. The government, whether it be Conservative or Liberal, will never feel compelled to cut low-priority programs unless they can't afford them - it will not happen on principle! The CPC is claiming that it will; I guess that's why they didn't take this tack.

We're overtaxed. We need to keep more of our own money. Please, in all senses of the expression, give us a break.

See the preamble to this list.
Go to #3.
Go to #1.

#3: Business subsidies out, business taxes down

Canning corporate welfare should be something that a Conservative minority could easily get 156 votes for. Canada has a strange, parallel "market", wherein company executives must devote considerable time to seeking their share of government favours, as well as (or instead of) customers, often just to keep up with their competitors. It is self-evidently unproductive (in an economic sense).

A corresponding cut in corporate taxes would enhance prospects for all Canadian businesses (and thus Canadian workers and consumers), while freeing up CEOs to focus on what should be their priority: increasing the value of their businesses by improving productivity, expanding market share, increasing revenues, etc..

Lastly, there is an underlying principle of fairness. The success of your business should depend on whether people want what you're selling for the price you're selling it. It should not depend on your executive VP's connections in government, or what riding your head office is in. Should it?

See the preamble to this list.
Go to #4.
Go to #2.

#4: Reduce EI premiums

If would be unfortunate if a Conservative minority government played along with the indefensible notion that EI is an insurance program. Much like health care "premiums" in my province, as well as B.C. and now Ontario, if the premiums paid into the program bear no operational or financial relationship to the benefits of the program, it's a tax.

Without even addressing the payout side of Employment Insurance, it's time to reduce EI premiums for both employees and employers. Firstly, as noted, employees (i.e. taxpayers) have some idea of what the program actually costs, because the revenues and expenses balance out.

Secondly, labour is a commodity like everything else. If employer-paid EI premiums are lower, labour is cheaper, and they buy more of it. (Reference: Chapter 1 of any introductory economics textbook).

The money to replace the lost EI revenue needs to come from the severe shrinkage of HRSDC and Industry. If labour is more affordable for employers, a host of government job creation and employability programs are eminently and immediately expendable.

See the preamble to this list.
Go to #5.
Go to #3.

#5: Deep-six the notion of nationalized daycare

A Conservative minority wouldn't have to actually do anything here: the program exists, and they are well on-record saying they won't be starting one. Yet the act of declining to start one creates two opportunities for Harper:

1) An opportunity to reinforce to Canadians that there is a constitutional division of powers in this country between federal and provincial governments. If voters want a particular program or some government action, they are welcome (compelled?) to press the relevant level of government for said action. No one is demanding that Lorne Calvert fund the replacement of the Sea Kings; why should they expect the prime minister to fund daycare?

2) An opportunity to begin convincing Canadians that the continued, unimpeded growth of the federal government is not necessarily in their best interest, that there is an alternative, and this alternative has tangible benefits for all Canadians.

If Harper allows this "decision" to be framed in the media as purely a matter of favouring Christian stay-at-home moms over embattled single parents, his future prospects are dim.

See the preamble to this list.
Go to #6.
Go to #4.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Prediction Time

Andrew Coyne is taking predictions on the seat count for Monday's election. These are the numbers I submitted to Mark Steyn's Maple Mayhem! contest on May 27th, and since they're a hell of a lot more plausible now than they were then, I'm sticking with them:
Conservatives: 137
Liberals: 105
Bloc: 50
NDP: 15
Chuck Cadman: 1

Based on the latest poll projections, and the early posts on Mr. Coyne's website, I may be giving the Liberals a few seats that the Bloc and the NDP are likely to win. However, I don't see the Dippers hitting the 20 mark, simply because they are, as usual, likely to be obliterated in the strategic voting department (not that I believe that's ever that big a factor anyway). As well, I tend to agree with Coyne and Inkless that the Liberals will beat their polling numbers in Quebec.

Here in Lethbridge, Rick Casson (CPC) is going to win in a rout - he got 66% of the vote in 2000, when there was a PC candidate. Ken Nicol should finish a disappointingly weak (for his supporters) 2nd, with the NDP, Greens, and Christian Heritage Party in a rough tie for 3rd with 4-5% each.

I actually wouldn't be surprised at all if the Greens finished 3rd here (or if the NDP finished 5th); the more people I talk to, the more I hear that "protest votes" will be parking with the Green Party. Generally, it's people who support SSM and don't want to support the CPC, but cannot vote Liberal.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Let's kill two birds with one stone, shall we?

Trudeaupia is facetiously announcing that the Liberals are ready to solve two "problems" at once: prison overcrowding, and the need for affordable daycare.

His suggestion gave me a flashback to the Frantics' old CBC sketch comedy show Four on the Floor. They once did a bit proposing that we solve the homeless/poverty problem and the pollution problem in one fell swoop - have people get rid of their cars, and ride the homeless to work!

I miss Four on the Floor. Van-couver! Bee-utiful!

#6: Military equipment purchases

A Conservative minority government must get the ball rolling on upgrading our military equipment. This would include beginning a program of replacing our fighter jets, and buying new transport ships - you know, the ones Paul Martin has promised to buy, but refers to as "aircraft carriers" in the context of the Conservatives planning to buy them.

A full and proper review of the Canadian Forces should also be initiated, which doesn't really require the support of Parliament - with a view to articulating exactly what capabilities we expect of our Forces. Additionally, it needs to identify ways to use the money we are already spending to increase our field readiness - possibly via reducing our relative glut of generals and senior officers.

Harper will need to begin the work of convincing Canadians that our foreign policy influence, historically and axiomatically, can extend no further than our military capabilities. And furthermore, that our ability to act independently from the United States is inversely proportional to our reliance on them for our defence.

See the preamble to this list.
Go to #7.
Go to #5.

#7: More help for Canadian consumers

Along the same lines as #8, Canadian taxpayers, consumers, and mutual fund-holders would be well-served by some more deregulation - how about the banks?

Canadian banks are subject to the same foreign ownership limitations as the airlines, and are prohibited from merging according to their own interests. No doubt there's fine reasoning behind this restriction of true competition, but as always, it is Canadian consumers who bear the cost. Again, it's hard to imagine what the downside is to having Citibank branches competing with the CIBC, from a consumer point of view. Anyone's standard of living gone down because they can buy a TV from Wal-Mart instead of The Bay?

If Harper really wanted to be ambitious, he would take on the supply management in other industries (say, dairy) that costs Canadian consumers money, and hits the poor the hardest. However, this is unlikely in a minority situation. The banks, however, should welcome it, as mergers will allow them to expand into other countries more ambitiously.

Plus, the only Liberal who can put together a coherent economic argument is John McCallum (who may not be re-elected anyway), and since he is the former chief economist for the Royal Bank, it should be no trouble digging up some former pronouncement of his favouring this very course of action.

If an (or the) overarching goal of government is to improve the standard of living of all its citizens, it is high time that competition and ownership regulations be inverted so as to benefit consumers, not other interests. Back to Wal-Mart: if they had been restricted from operating in Canada, it is the poorest of us who would suffer most, and that should be patently obvious to anyone who has ever walked through a Wal-Mart on a Saturday afternoon.

See the preamble to this list.
Go to #8.
Go to #6.

His 2nd favourite show is E! Talk Daily

From Colby Cosh today:
"Ouch. Is the CTV quite aware that they're running the latest Liberal attack ad during Canadian Idol? Canadian voters must never forget how Brian Mulroney anally raped this country with his Satanic anti-people tax cuts... and now we return you to, uhhh, Ben Mulroney. Very awkward."

Which begs the question: Colby Cosh watches Canadian Idol? Also, I see from his sub-header that he is a fan of They Might Be Giants' album Flood ("It's a brand new record, for 1990"). Sapphire bullets indeed.

Paul "Yeah Right" Martin

Mr. Martin has a new nickname! At least in this corner. Every time my wife sees him say anything on TV, whether it be in an ad, a soundbite on the news, or an extended sit-down like last night's with Mansbridge on CBC, she reflexively says, "Yeah right."

Said sit-down did nothing to change that reflex; it was reinforced even further. He managed to muddle through the first question about health care on the strength(?) of his usual rhetoric. The only eyebrow-raiser was when he declared to this enormous questioner that her wait of 6 hours to see a specialist after going to the ER was unacceptable, without knowing (A) what kind of specialist it was, (B) how urgent her problem was, or (C) what hospital she was in. Which reminds me, I had lunch with a friend in management at the Chinook Health Region the other day, and joked that he may be out of a job next week, since it sounds like Paul Martin, if elected, wants to roll up his sleeves and do it for him. Friend (laughing): "He can have it."

Anyway, the second questioner was probably the best of the night. A 30-something woman pointed out that parents with income under $40,000 already have considerable access to free or subsidized daycare, and wanted to know what he planned to do to make it easier for one parent to stay home with their kids. His answer, I think, was that the Liberals increased the Child Tax Benefit. Woman follows up with great, but again, that mainly helps families with incomes under $40,000.

Mr. Martin said he agreed with the woman that children were best-off being cared for by their own parents. I suppose my question would be, is there a single policy that has been, or will be, enacted by the Liberals that would indicate that?

I live in Lethbridge, Alberta, where fortunately the cost of living is extremely low relative to much of Canada. I make more than $40,000/year, but not miles more, and for my wife to be a "full-time mom" to our two sons and forego a paycheque, we have to downgrade our standard of living considerably. It is a choice we make, but with reservations, because this lower standard of living affects our sons as well (e.g. more hand-me-downs, no vacations, fewer special programs, etc.).

Paul Martin says he believes this choice is best for our sons. The evidence for this is:
- The government charges my family more income tax if I earn it all than if both my wife and I earn it
- Some of this tax goes to subsidize parents who make the opposite choice and send their children to daycare

As Mrs. Aldini would say, "Yeah right."

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

#8: Free-for-all in the sky

The era of Canadians insisting, or even caring much, that the companies providing their goods and services be Canadian-owned, is as dead as fried chicken. It's time to save Air Canada from the government, and in so doing, benefit all Canadians.

A Conservative minority government ought to:
A) scrap all legislation that treats Air Canada any differently than other airlines
B) scrap the 25% foreign ownership limit on Canadian airlines, and
C) negotiate an open-skies agreement with our neighbours to the south, and anyone else who wants to get in on it

I am skeptical that Canadians, aside from the members of Air Canada's eleventeen unions, have any compelling interest in the nationality of the owners of their air travel providers, or where their maintenance facilities are located. I am positive that Canadians have an interest in cheaper air travel.

Any airline that can provide air travel safely to Canadians (English- and French-) should be allowed to do so, and the shackles need to be taken off Air Canada so they can compete. A government willing to enable this shows Canadians that it is looking out for them - as consumers and as taxpayers, not as romantic nationalists.

See the preamble to this list.
Go to #9.
Go to #7.

#9: So long dental plan! Err, gun registry!

Regardless of the likelihood of winning the vote in Parliament, a Conservative minority government must attempt to eliminate the gun registry.

Faced with the incredible cost-overruns of the registry, and the lack of a speck of evidence that it makes Canadians any safer, its unshakeable supporters have been tending more and more towards the defence of, "It sends the right message."

The "right message" that they claim it sends is that the government is concerned about gun violence, and is taking action against it. But what they really mean is that they support the actual message that it sends: guns are bad, you're lucky that the government lets you own one at all, and the registry not-so-subtly reminds you of this privilege the government is extending to you.

The Conservatives must attempt to abolish the registry, and thus send these two messages:
1) The government of Canada will not spend money that does not provide commensurate value to Canadians.
2) Gun owners are not presumptive criminals.

Go to #10.
Go to #8.
See the preamble to this list.

#10: Turn the CRTC upside down

Whether or not the government should support Canadian "culture" is a discussion I fervently hope we see under a minority government. There are pros and cons, and there are worse things the goverment can spend my tax money than grants for artists (that there are better things goes without saying, at least on this blog).

What I absolutely cannot abide, however, is that as a consumer of culture and entertainment, I am prohibited from buying certain products, namely HBO, ESPN, TNT, etc.

Imagine walking into a new Chapters store. A quarter of the floor area is devoted to Canadian books. Another quarter is devoted to American and other foreign books, all vetted by the government to ensure they do not duplicate the content found in any of the Canadian books. The remaining half of the store is completely empty.

If the CRTC regulated bookstores like they do Canadian cable and satellite TV providers, this is exactly what Chapters would look like. There is no longer any technological justification for the CRTC regulating what channels we can watch, only a culture policy that both subsidizes the creation of Canadian programming and prohibits us from watching any alternatives.

A Conservative government needs to restrict the CRTC's mandate to regulating broadcast TV and radio, where the number of channel spaces is finite. The government has no business telling me I can't subscribe to HBO if StarChoice is willing to provide it to me. And thankfully, this policy change would be a bell that could not be un-rung.

See the preamble to this list.
Go to #9.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Time to get serious? Seriously.

Here we are on Tuesday night, 6 days before the election, 5 days of campaigning and advertising left. Every single seat projection out there has Conservatives in a minority government situation. As such, it is now meaningful to ask, "How should the Conservatives govern in this situation?"

I have an answer, and it is based on a crucial premise: a Conservative government of any kind may not happen again in the near future. It may, but it certainly may not. They have to govern as if this is their one chance, and if it is, they will leave Canadians with more freedoms than when they were elected. I also believe strongly that, if their minority government falls, they will be in much, much better position if they have staked out the right-of-centre unambiguously; that is to say, if they lose a confidence vote, it had bloody well be on one of the myriad of issues that 75% of Canadian politicians oppose, and 60% of Canadians support.

What I am trying to say is that there are probably 10 pieces of legislation that a minority Conservative government could table and consider to be win-win/win, in that:
A) successful passage of the legislation would constitute a victory for conservative principles, and a victory that could not be easily undone,
2) unsuccessful passage of the legislation would underline to "moderate" Canadians just how intrusive the federal government has become in the past 50 years,
D) this unsuccessful passage, in a "loss of confidence" vote, would benefit the Conservative Party in a snap election caused by the dissolution of Parliament

Over the last 5 days of the election campaign, I am going to count down these 10 potential legislative/budgetary moves the CPC could make to help both themselves and all of us. I will also guarantee right here and now, that if they attempt to govern as what Rick Salutin calls "a Liberal government not run by Liberals", they will lose the next election whether in 6 months or 4 years, and shortly thereafter be obliterated from both the left and a new right.

The list is in ordered by priority level, not necessarily the sequence in which they should be tabled. Suggestions are welcome.

Martin gets it wrong again

Yesterday, Paul Martin added to his remarkable list of pronouncements this campaign which are not only baloney and/or a bad idea, but exactly opposite of the most sensible way to address an issue.

The latest is to his wish to have his premiers' meeting to "fix health care for a generation" held entirely in public, in front of the cameras. I would tend to agree that deals arrived at entirely in secret are undesirable. However, it is completely unthinkable that a meeting of 11 high-level politicians, on a highly political topic, would keep any kind of secrets regardless of how "private" the meeting is.

If Premier Y doesn't like the way things are going, his aides tell the press about it, to make sure that Y isn't blamed for a result he's unhappy with. If Premier Z gets everything he wants, he comes out of the meeting, stands in front of the cameras, and takes credit for it.

Your basic City Council meeting is held in public - boy, we sure see a lot of tough decisions coming out of those things! Likewise, concessions in Legislatures and Parliament are always made in private; it allows everyone to save a little face. Laws and sausages are similar, it is said: you don't really want to know how they're made.

It is self-evident that a politician is less willing to compromise in public than in private. Wide-open first ministers meetings would mean more grandstanding and fewer results. As The Sports Guy would say, I will not argue about this.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Lethbridge Riding Update

A puzzling sequence of events:

2000: In the federal election, the Canadian Alliance outpolls the Liberals roughly 30,000 to 8,000.
December 2003: Provincial Liberal leader Ken Nicol decides to resign his provincial seat and run as a Liberal in Lethbridge for the federal election.
June 2004: Mr. Nicol speaks in radio ads, declaring himself to be particularly dedicated to action on "health care, BSE, and education".

Good grief. For all the ranting about the Charter right now, has any Liberal actually read the constitution? If Ken Nicol had, would he really be switching from provincial Leader of the Opposition to federal politics to pursue action on health care and education? For that matter, it was a provincial lab that tested the cow cabesa infected with BSE.

Does anyone running in this election actually want to be a member of a national government, or do they just want to be mayors and premiers with more spending powers? I don't recall a federal election, ever, where issues relevant to governing a nation were so blatantly ignored.

It's like school at Christmas

No class, I tell you. Just about to a man, PGA Tour professionals are a graceless bunch of crybabies. As I noted yesterday, they are notoriously thin-skinned, and apparently unable to grasp any golf tournament where a good performance doesn't result in a 66.

A selection of gripes:
"Seven is unplayable. The majority of the field is going to make four there which is ridiculous" - Ernie Els
"They look up at the scoreboard and they see all those little red numbers and they panic. They [the USGA] don't want 10-under to win their tournament and that's just the philosophy that they've had forever" - Jeff Maggert
"When are they [the USGA] going to grow a head? I have no idea." - Jerry Kelly
"I think they're ruining the game. They're ruining the tournament. This isn't golf. Period." - more Jerry Kelly
"I played some of the best golf of my life and I still couldn't shoot par" - Phil Mickelson
"I know you try to identify the best players. There's nothing wrong with it being hard and difficult. But just don't make it so it's out of control unfair." - Tiger Woods

Today, Golf World's Ron Sirak has a good piece on the pros' pompousness. Amazingly, I don't think the pros have any concept that, as fans, we LIKE seeing them get their asses kicked once in a while.

Maggert: you beat just about everyone in the field's brains in yesterday - what's your problem?
Lefty: par is just a number, man. If you won, would you care if your score was 295?
Mr. Kelly: anyone whose only wins are the Sony and the Western Opens, with scores in the 260s, should NOT be offering comment on the setups at majors.
Ernie: the guy you played with yesterday beat you by 9 strokes and won the tournament. Does it not register that, whether the greens are soft, hard, or marble, IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER - the point is to beat the other guys, nothing else.
And Tiger: when you won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, second place was +3. Any notion that the setup was "unfair" would have made you LAUGH OUT LOUD, partly because you shot 12-under, partly because you won by 15 shots, and partly because, you wouldn't have cared! You would have thought to yourself, "Great, all these other clowns are psyching themselves out, I'm going to go out and obliterate them." Now, you appear to have all the mental toughness of a kid quitting piano lessons. THAT is the difference with you now, not your swing.

I will be ignoring these princesses until the British Open, where I hope it's 8 degrees Celsius and blowing a damn gale.

(UPDATE 4:07PM): Pete McEntegart at SI.com says it better. Also, we should recognize amateur Spencer Levin, who managed to acknowledge the difficulty of the course without crying in his soda water - "I've never seen greens even close to that fast. That was as hard as it gets". That attitude actually sounds, ummm, professional.)

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Cue up the world's smallest violin

Is there a bigger bunch of whiny sucks, as a group, than PGA golfers? Reading the post-mortems of the U.S. Open, I've been overdosing on righteous indignation.

It's common knowledge that left-wingers are about as common on the PGA Tour as tank tops and wool socks, but offend their sensibilities in some way, and their joint rhetoric sounds like something borrowed from French farmers. Johnny Miller makes some unflattering comments on NBC, and the players run to the commissioner to "get rid of this guy from the telecasts". ONE GUY persisently heckles Davis Love III in March, and he shuts down into pout mode for the rest of the match.

Worst of all is this blarney about how "the setup of the course is really unfair" at seemingly every U.S. Open. Ladies of the PGA Tour: if some guys got to play on one setup, and everyone else on a tougher one, that would be unfair. The U.S. Open is difficult, and it is different. Robert Allenby shot 70 today. Now two-time champion Retief Goosen shot 71. Jerry Kelly - you're a wuss. Show the champ his due respect. The course was brutally difficult today, and you weren't as up to it as some other guys. Take your 78 and your bruised ego, and shut up and go home.

Friday, June 18, 2004

The Giambi Corollary - ignore it at your peril

Those of you familiar with the immutable, but occasionally unnamed, laws of sport were totally unsurprised to see the Lakers get dismantled by the Pistons in the NBA Finals.

Three seasons ago, the incomparable Sports Guy laid out for peer review The Ewing Theory, a clever and frequently substantiated premise that sports teams are better off without their best player. It requires the following:
1. A star athlete receives an inordinate amount of media attention and fan interest, and yet his teams never win anything substantial with him (other than maybe some early-round playoff series).
2. That same athlete leaves his team (either by injury, trade, graduation, free agency or retirement) -- and both the media and fans immediately write off the team for the following season.


Inevitably, the team performs very well, and sportswriters are left baffled - there are absolutely dozens of examples of the Ewing Theory in action.

In reaction to the Colorado Avalanche signing Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne on the same day this past NHL offseason, I was compelled to articulate The Giambi Corollary to The Ewing Theory. It requires the following:
1. A star athlete who has never won a championship is in need of a new team to accommodate his A) giant contract, or B) unfulfilled desire to win a championship
2. A rich, successful team acquires said athlete -- and both the media and fans immediately award the championship trophy to said team, ignoring the piffling matter of the actual season to be played

In early 2001, coming off three straight World Series wins, the New York Yankees decided to sign chiseled first baseman and sabermetrician's wet dream Jason Giambi to an 9-figure, multi-year contract. In light of the streak they were on, and Giambi's MVP-talents, the sports media crowned the Yankees four-peat champs before Opening Day. What actually happened when they played the games is the Yankees lost to Arizona in the World Series, and they haven't won it since, losing to the Angels and the Marlins in the past two years.

My first specific recollection of The Giambi Corollary in action was the Houston Rockets signing Charles Barkley for the 1995-96 NBA season, coming off back-to-back championships. They didn't even make it to the finals. Kariya and Selanne this year for the Avalanche were an unforeseeable disaster - unless you were familiar with The Giambi Corollary. The exceptions that prove the rule are Ray Bourque and Dominik Hasek; and even Bourque's first playoffs with Colorado ended in disappointment.

Anyhoo.....the Lakers signing Payton and Malone before this season was teasing the power of The Giambi Corollary. Then the gambling action was so hot on the Lakers that they were made -200 favorites to win the NBA title. For those of you unfamiliar with the terminology, that means you could have picked every other team in the NBA to win the title, and the Lakers were still 2-1 favorites against your 28 teams.

This blatant an invocation of The Giambi Corollary absolutely demanded that it work - and so it did. And those of us who respected its fundamental truth were enriched, thanks to Laker bettors, literally.

But-They-Don't-Have-A-Mandate!

From the Jumping The Gun Dept.:

Yesterday, I posted at andrewcoyne.com that "of course, [if the Conservatives win] the Globe et al will attribute the win entirely to "incumbent fatigue" and outrage over the sponorship scandal (see Andrew Coyne's latest column), and argue he has no mandate whatsoever to change anything." As a prediction, this falls somewhere in the "sun will come up tomorrow" category, without the pesky wait for the following morning.

An anonymous poster chimed in 20 minutes later putting the over/under for this argument at 2 minutes after they call it for the CPC; and today, poster htl notes that Rick Salutin in today's Globe has beat the rush by eleven days.

"Mr. Harper, the right ideologue, was forced to take adulterated positions. He will not be able to claim a mandate for his real preferences, of the sort belonging to Mike Harris or Ralph Klein. It will be clear the country wanted a Liberal government not run by Liberals. That may not stop him from acting ideologically, but undermines the legitimacy of doing so. His fervent pro-U.S. bent, for instance, is clearly not shared by the country."

This argument is mostly sound. Harper did adulterate his previous positions, to present a broader appeal. If he acts on ideology that was not articulated during the campaign, it smacks of illegitimacy.

However, the notion that "the country wanted a Liberal government not run by the Liberals" is as absurd as it is unverifiable, and it infantilizes the 30-odd percent of Canadians who vote Conservative. Harper would have a mandate to enact every last policy in the Conservative Party platform if he so chooses, and in fact, it would demean the democratic will of Canadians not to try. This would include tax cuts, increasing military funding, and terminating the noxious idea of a nationalized daycare system.

Or to put it another way, if voting out the Liberals would not constitute the rejection of Liberal government, what exactly would?

Unite the Left!

It's time for the left parties to stop bickering, find some common ground, and unite to prevent the vote-splitting that's been killing them in the last several elections.

I'm speaking of course of the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada and the Communist Party of Canada. Why, in the last election alone, I believe their vote-splitting allowed the Christian Heritage party to come up the middle in one riding, and the Libertarian party in another.

Put aside your petty quarrels, please. How do you expect anyone to buy "Workers of the World Unite!" when you can't even unite your own parties?

More wishful thinking at the Globe

It's no mystery where John Ibbotson's sympathies lie when it comes to federal politics, but he is generally a pretty astute observer of the scene. In today's column, however, his head has failed to filter out what his heart wishes were true.

He believes that there is a chunk of swing voters in Ontario who will be frightened by Ralph Klein's mysterious secret plan to destroy health care in Alberta. There are two reasons why this is a drastic overestimation of things:
1) It's Alberta, not Ontario
2) Paul Martin's supposed "brilliant" plan to capitalize on any fallout is to huff that "I will look Ralph Klein in the eye and say 'no'."

If there was any evidence that Ontario swing voters believe Paul Martin's rhetoric, I might be convinced by Ibbotson's musings. For that matter, is there any evidence that, in the 2+ years since Martin was fired as Finance Minister, he has ever once looked anyone in the eye and said No? If he has, they're outnumbered 50 to 1 by the people he has told, "Your situation is a priority for me."

The truest line spoken in the campaign thus far is still this one:

"The thing that the Liberals don't get is, no one believes anything they say." - Stephen Harper

The only way for the Liberals to deal with this is to promise less, instead of more. Unfortunately for them, that doesn't exactly jibe with their vision of the national government, and besides, Harper pretty much has that ground staked out already.

Just ask this scientician!

I can't decide if David Suzuki's ramblings are getting more woozy, or if they're the same, and they just sound loonier because every year that goes by, more of his old predictions are proven wrong. Thanks to Gloria Galloway at the Globe & Mail (Globe Reporters Unwired), here's Dave's musings on space-based missile defence (umm, he's against it):

"When people talk about fool-proof technology, you think about that, what is a fool-proof technology?" asked Mr. Suzuki. "It's a technology free of fools. And what technology do we have that is ever so perfect that we can have fools in it and there's never an accident. That's the great weakness of the whole nuclear power and nuclear weapons, there are always these bloody human beings and they fall in love and lose 50 IQ points. They get the flu and they get drunk and go in the next day. They do all kinds of things to screw up the works. You can't have a fool-proof technology as long there are fools that are operating the system."

We "bloody human beings" have long been an irritation for Dave, but I hadn't realized before that his primary objection to missiles in space is that the technology isn't foolproof. Cancel my heart surgery! And for that matter, my taxi.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Democracy Watch: like what you're seeing?

Believers in the Law of Unintended Consequences are being treated to an edifying spectacle, as the impact of the "Harper v. Canada" decision is playing out predictably.

To recap briefly, after the 2000 election, the Liberal government drafted amendments to the Elections Act limiting "third-parties", i.e. everyone besides the political parties, to spending $1,000 per riding or $150,000 nationally during an election campaign. The National Citizen's Coalition, led at the time by Stephen Harper, challenged the law in court. On May 18th of this year, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the new provisions 6-3, reasoning in part that there is "a danger that political advertising may manipulate or oppress the voter."

Several obvious problems with this that were immediately identifiable:
1) Many people's interests are not identical to that of any political party
2) Even supporters of a particular party may not have their specific concerns addressed by the party during an election campaign, nor should a political party be expected to represent all the individual concerns of its supporters
3) There is no evidence that a Canadian federal election has ever been "bought", in fact the 1988 (Free Trade Agreement) election and the Charlottetown Referendum are evidence to the contrary
4) Canadian voters are more discerning than a 4-year-old watching commercials for sugar cereal

Responding to an editorial in the National Post pointing out that political parties would have a de facto monopoly on electoral debate, Mr. Aaron Cooper of intervenor Democracy Watch wrote, "This would only be half-true if the media completely neglected to cover the views of interest groups and individuals on various issues."

Well, guess what? In a surprising development, the media has neglected to cover the views of interest groups and individuals on various issues. And frankly, why should they? Their job is to sell newspapers and get high TV ratings, not ensure so-called "fairness" in election campaigns. Of course, Mr. Cooper did suggest one method of getting your message out that doesn't require a friendly or pliant media - "shout it from the rooftops."

In what I suppose is an appropriate twist of fate, the people most affected now by the restrictions are Liberal supporters who desperately want to defeat the Conservatives - labour unions, the "Canadian Culture" crowd, etc. Because the Liberals (and the other parties) have chosen to essentially ignore culture as an election issue, it isn't one. Margaret Atwood is scared of the CPC, there's a Globe article on it, that's it. Sonja Smits and two dozen other actors hold a press conference warning us about potential cuts under the CPC, the CBC does 90 seconds on it, that's it. Sorry folks, if neither the parties nor the media are interested enough in your issue to push aside whatever else they were going to talk about, then head up to the rooftop.

What an abominable situation to find ourselves in, in a purported democracy. Thanks to a law whose purported intent was "that wealth should not be used to drown out the voices of ordinary Canadians in an election", ordinary Canadians can only be heard with the leave of multi-billion dollar media conglomerates, or a party war room that uses issues as a backup plan.

Stephen Harper has promised to repeal these restrictions if elected, and if he is, let's hope it's Bill C-1. Beyond that, a snarky suggestion to the CanCon crowd: "freedom of expression" isn't just about making ugly art and denouncing George Bush. You were lazily silent when this law was enacted and upheld, but you should note dutifully: if you are willing to promote freedom of expression even when it's not to your obvious advantage, you will be taken much, much more seriously.

UPDATE: Trudeaupia acknowledges the irony as well.

Paul Martin NewsFlash: Maybe western alienation is something I can live with after all

From the Liberal Party war room:

In a blatant attempt to hide their shared agenda from voters in the midst of an election campaign, Firewall buddy, Harper supporter and public health care menace Premier Ralph Klein announced today that he will be introducing radical changes to Alberta’s public health care system – two days after the federal election.

Ah, lads, reduced again to picking on the scary Albertan. Why, if other provinces cut their per capita health spending down to the level that the "menace" has done, they'd be, errr, oh yeah, spending more.

Ave atque vale, Anne McLellan.

Test

Man, was that ever easy to set up.