Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

“I didn’t know!” – the death throes of a desperate squirmer

The Conservatives are losing their favourite, time-tested tactic to reset public opinion: just say the word “sponsorship.”

For seven long years, anytime they could be criticised for ethical lapses, for cronyism and corruption, for pork and for secrecy (in a word, umm, always), they could simply refer back to “sponsorship” and be assured that the public would growl at horrific memories of Liberal sleaze, and we’d remind ourselves how grateful we should be that things are, at the very least, not that bad.

Except that they are. And you know that they are when a Prime Minister not only refutes something, not only ignores something, but says he “didn’t know about it.”

Paul Martin “didn’t know” about sponsorship. Jean Chrétien “didn’t know” either. The entire scandal was supposed to come down to the over-zealous shenanigans of backroom functionaries, whose fealty to their Party blinded them to fair play – and, in their fealty, they also knew better than to even tell their Party leaders anything about it. To protect them.

People see this as squirmery. For a leader to say he “didn’t know” about something, anything, absolutely reeks of it. Any politician volunteering that he is both ignorant and a poor manager will damage him, but he does it to protect him from the greater damage that the truth would inflict. And that missing truth is all that people see. 

No one believed that Chrétien “didn’t know,” or that Martin “didn’t know” about the actions of their own office. The Reformer/Conservatives didn’t believe it! For them, though, it’s now become nigh on impossible to trade on their old 2004 outrage, having themselves now sunk to having today’s Prime Minister, in all his micromanaging obsession, through his hawk-eyed economist’s lens, have to come out and say that he just “didn’t know.”

Outrage for sponsorship is no longer a tradeable commodity, desperate though Harper is to revert to familiar tactics. His TV address was effectively the very same speech he liked to give when he was Leader of the Opposition, eight, nine, even ten years ago: he’d like the Senate to be reformed, and believes Ottawa needs to be more transparent. 

After seven years in power, the Senate is worse, and transparency is markedly, shamefully poorer. And so, Stephen Harper’s ethical conundrum: the more he repeats his old adage about” demanding better,” the more Canadians actually will.

Filed under: Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,

MacKay: We’re just as dodgy with our accounting as Sponsorship-era Liberals

Duhhhhr! Ooonnggg... errrrggg....

Out of the mouths of babes.

It’s been an awkward delight watching Conservative spinmeisters trot out Plan A through Plan W in their Catalogue of Flimsy Excuses over the F-35 affair. Blaming bureaucrats didn’t cut it, even blaming the other parties hasn’t cut it. One waits with bated breath for Harper to find a new Guergis-figure he can throw under a bus and hope to be done with it.

Until then, Peter MacKay’s latest delicious position is that the $10 billion difference in Tory cost estimates and actual cost comes down to a simple “difference in accounting” between the DND and the government.

A difference in accounting. Ten. Billion. Dollars. The very act of stringing these words together with a straight face ought to be grounds for dismissal. What is gross misconduct if not forgetting to count Ten Billion Dollars? Or worse yet, remembering to, but not caring?

You just can’t square the idea that “sober stewards of the economy” can shrug off Ten Billion Dollars as a blip in accounting practices, and MacKay knew it. The argument was more than simply flimsy, it was damaging.

And, what’s the Conservatives’ default damage control strategy again? Oh yes. Blame The Liberals.

Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it leaves the Opposition enfeebled and dumbstruck. But, this time, the strategy has the ring of the truly surreal. Peter MacKay has been marched in front of national television to argue that, because the Liberals once excluded staff, maintenance and fuel costs in procurement of military equipment, the Tories are in their rights to do it too.

The Conservatives, in turn, pointed to a 2004 Liberal government announcement about military helicopters as proof that excluding salary and fuel costs has been common practice for years.

This is precisely how low the Conservatives have sunk. In the midst of ballooning scandal, Peter MacKay has had to come out and announce, with a certain air of righteousness, that his government maintains the same accounting principles as the Liberal Party. And not the Liberals of today – but the Liberals of 2004.

The Liberals of 2004 who, like the Conservatives of 2012, found themselves subject to a damning Auditor General’s report. A report that ultimately vaporised any remaining public trust in the government, liquified the Liberal Dynasty and ushered in The Republic of Harperland.

What did Sheila Fraser say in 2004 again, when the government “wasted money and showed disregard for rules, mishandling millions of dollars”?

“I think this is such a blatant misuse of public funds that it is shocking. I am actually appalled by what we’ve found.”

“I am deeply disturbed that such practices were allowed to happen in the first place. I don’t think anybody can take this lightly.”

In 2004, the Liberals’ proclivity towards subterfuge and black-box budgets were enough to fuel and fan the Conservative rise.

In 2012, though, the Liberals’ proclivity towards subterfuge and black-box budgets seems to mean there is a perfectly acceptable precedent for the Tories to do the same.

Precedents being precedents, though, it’s becoming difficult to see how Harper can ever fully reclaim the trust of a public he has taken for stupid for far too long.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

If this isn’t bittersweet…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times – welcome to Dickensian Canada.

The best of times, in some ways – a social democratic party’s never had a bigger share of the Parliamentary pie. And Quebec sovereigntists have never had less.

The worst of times, clearly, in that years of fear-mongering and negativist spin has converted more Canadians to Harperian Conservatism than ever before. Opacity and contempt haven’t offended us. Historic debt is of trivial interest. Government disdain for media has been swallowed by the selfsame media. Dubya-esque megaprojects have received a Canadian stamp of approval, years after the crash-landing of Dubya-ism in the United States itself.

A CPC majority was not only the worst-case scenario, it increasingly seemed one of the least likely. But, here we are, all the same. Lots of ways to think about what’s happened, and what happens next – rather than write one megapost, I think I’ll post a few things today. Once I emerge from the hour-long freezing shower I need to take… who knows, perhaps this is, in fact, a strange dream?

In the meantime, I’m a big fan of the CBC’s (ahem – now mortally endangered, I suppose) interactive electoral maps. They go back three elections. Contrast and compare – we’ve been on quite a ride after all.

The 2006 election

Then the 2008 election

And then the 2011 election

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , ,

NDP rising, but whither the seats?

The NDP is closing to within six points of the Tories, according to the latest Nanos. This potential political upheaval generates huge excitement, but it also provokes a big question: will the House of Commons reflect the popular vote at all?

There are obvious problems with making predictions based on uniform swing, but as an experiment, we can nevertheless get a picture of what the post-May 2 universe might look like – and, more importantly, we get a clear picture how First Past the Post distorts electoral results to favour region-dense parties over parties with broad, national appeal.

I’m using the Hill & Knowlton Predictor (since I’m finding it fun at the moment) and, to illustrate the point, I entered a prediction that shows the CPC and the NDP each receiving 34.0% of the popular vote. An exact tie. (I gave the LPC a dismal, but not unlikely, 21% of the vote. Greens get 5%, and Bloc holds onto 6%)

The predicted seat count would be a travesty. Despite a national tie in popular vote, the Conservatives would emerge with +/- 135 seats, while the NDP would capture +/- 87. That’s the seat count we might get with an exact tie in the popular vote. I mean, wow.

On the one hand, all us Orange Wave Surfers would probably be mostly exhilarated at the prospect of 87 New Democrat seats. But that exhilaration collapses when comparing the relative successes. A party like the Cons, with its depth in the West, would massively outgain the NDP, which draws support relatively evenly from coast to coast to coast.

This isn’t about splitting the leftist vote – it’s about an electoral system that does not remotely account for the popular will.

There is every reason to expect a result like this on Monday. New Democrats nationwide, assuming they can get out the vote in an effective way, are on track for record gains. But placing a very close second in a hundred ridings, or two hundred ridings, won’t mean a single new MP. Tens of thousands of Canadians’ votes, even hundreds of thousands of them, might have zero impact on the composition of the 41st Parliament.

Outrageous, no? But why isn’t electoral reform on the radar this election?

Partly because it’s still seen as a bit wonkish. Political nerds get excited by electoral reform discussions, and no one else. Partly, too, because anytime a politician proposes changing the system, voters smell a rat. What’ve you got up your sleeve, then? Add that to the prospect of renewed constitutional wrangling, and fine, no one dares go there.

But all that caution and disinterest could vanish if we get an abysmal result like the one predicted above. Electoral reform could work its way into the heart of how we work towards renewing our democracy.

The Brits will soon be heading to the polls, on 5 May, to vote in a referendum on abandoning First Past the Post, and adopting Alternative Vote, or Automatic Runoff. It’s seen as a small change, and not really full proportional representation. It does, though, strike a balance between keeping a House of Commons comprised of constituent MPs while also ensuring that no MP shows up to work without being secure in the knowledge that 50% of the constituency has offered an endorsement.

(As an aside – for now! – the British public is torn on the question – some polls indicate that voters will reject the change, but other polls have also had the yes and no camps tied in recent weeks.)

As regards the NDP’s chances on Monday, I am steeling myself for what I consider to be the worst likely scenario – huge NDP gains in the popular vote, but absolute robbery of the seats they deserve through a crude electoral system designed for the bipartisan Britain of yestercentury. Should we witness such a crime, here’s hoping it might at least provoke the requisite national outrage to create the conditions for a change.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , ,

Behold, the CDN Fed-Elxn Predictometer 3000

O.K., it’s not got quite as fun a name as that, to its shame. Nonetheless, Hill and Knowlton have launched their 2011 Canadian federal election interactive swing-o-meter map predictor thingy! If you find yourself with some time this morning, it turns out that playing god is surprisingly fun.

I’ve run through a prediction, based in part on some of the more inspiring poll results we’ve seen of late, and based also on my optimistic take of voter turnout. You have to be optimistic to see the new NDP support in Québec moving from soft sympathy to a hard black X on the ballot… but optimistic I am. I’ve given the NDP a hearty but reasonable swing, most from LPC, but from BQ and Greens in a big way too, and some CPC for the heck of it.

The Predictor employs uniform swing, unfortunately, which is kind of half-meaningless (I lie – it does appear to allow you to make provincial and regional predictions and variations in swing and split, but it’s unclear to me how you can assemble these into the national picture).

Despite all the flaws of prediction through uniform swing, I was nevertheless intrigued by the result I got. Indeed, within reason and considering my full respect for the laws of reality, you could say I love the result. CPC on 137 seats, LPC on 72 seats, NDP on 68 seats, BQ on 30 seats, and Greens on 0. It allows for LPC/NDP overruling the diminished Reformer minority, while also avoiding allegations of consorting with hellspawned Bloquistes to do it.

Applying my swings to the Predictor, I’ve turned more of the Prairies orange than I expected to, as well as more of Québec (on current figures, they’re lined up for six seats), but British Columbia has only turned a bit more orange than before. The Liberals are the West Coast losers extraordinaire, capturing Vancouver Quadra, and nothing else.

Give it a go yourself. Any thoughts on utility, fun-factor, improvements to be made?

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , , ,

The little blue fortress

It’s a funny way to run a campaign. Stephen Harper is talking up the need for his coveted majority, but his campaign approach – banning, and forcibly kicking out, undecided voters and non-partisan onlookers from his Conservative rallies – seems very strange. What are rallies for, if not to generate new party enthusiasm? And what use is any such enthusiasm if it doesn’t reach contagion in the wider world? Hard-core CPC cheerleaders won’t get to vote twice – how much more excitable do they need to be?

It seems like a dumb approach, but it’s of course a tactical decision. Harper wants his majority, not through bringing new votes onside, but through simply getting his entire existing base out to vote on 2 May. He wants to whip up all the sworn-allies into such a state of anti-Ignatieff frenzy that they’ll simply out-participate the majority of Canadians – you know, non-Conservatives – on election day.

Canny, if only the Canadian arithmetic worked in his favour. Regardless of whether 100% of Harper’s hard-base come to vote, it’s probably not enough. In Facebook speak, Stephen Harper simply doesn’t have enough friends.

This is not, of course, a new thing for the Cons – it’s at the heart of how they communicate and conduct themselves. Last summer, in effort to be a little better informed (about communication styles, if not about actual policy!) I thought I’d subscribe to all the federal parties’ online newsletters (except, to my shame, the Greens. Sorry Elizabeth!).

It’s a simple process – you visit the party website, you register the email address to which you prefer receiving what I call “useful spam,” and rub your eager hands in anticipation of lots of new political bumpf to fill your inbox.

And so it is that I get lots of emails from Michael Ignatieff and team – today, he says:

How Stephen Harper’s Conservatives decide to do a Facebook background check on everyone at their rallies, while ignoring the criminal past of a senior advisor like Bruce Carson is a mystery to me.

But I’ll tell you what. We’ve had thousands and thousands of Canadians show up at Liberal rallies from Vancouver to St. John’s. And all they hear at the door is “Come on in to the Big Red Tent.”

I also get messages from Jack Layton and team. Tons, in fact. Today, he says:

For years, your priorities have been pushed aside in Ottawa.

Your life is getting more expensive. Your health care services are being ignored. And the Liberal-style scandals are pushing your family’s priorities aside.

Ottawa is broken – and it’s time to fix it.

I have a team that’s ready to fight for you.

And yes, I get messages from Gilles Duceppe and company. The Bloc is apparently so excited to communicate with a voter registered at a B.C. postal code, that today, they even bothered to email me about their new campaign theme song:

Le Bloc Québécois a récemment dévoilé la ritournelle de sa campagne électorale. Écrite et interprétée par Jason Hudon, les arrangements musicaux sont l’œuvre de Mike Sawatzky, le guitariste principal du légendaire groupe québécois Les Colocs.

Anyone want to wager a guess how many messages I’ve received from Team Harper?

*crickets* *sagebrush drifting over the arid valley bed*

I always found this odd. Here I am, a Canadian voter, signing up to their website, asking them to spam me with all manner of propaganda, and they never so much as said hello. The only reason I could deduce, given that they cannot be accused of being relaxed and disorganised on the PR front, is that they inferred through running my email address against Facebook and what have you, that I was not a serious Conservative voter. I was an imposter. I might use their newsletters in dark socialist rituals of some kind. In short, they wrote me off.

In a manner, they were right. I am more likely to grow bat wings out of my shoulder blades than support a CPC candidate in the year 2011. But the fact they simply do not give a rat’s ass about seducing new, moderate, curious Canadians into their fold, speaks to me of a single-minded (and, frankly deluded) get-out-the-base strategy, and nothing more.

Have at it, I say. But, as David McGuinty told them so recently: too bad, so sad – you don’t got the numbers.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , , , ,

Is this the beginning of the end?


The Conservatives, leading most polls for the best part of the past couple of years, have always maintained an aloof confidence in their capacity to win a third straight minority government. “We don’t want an election, but bring it if you dare” seems to have been their general refrain.

Now, we see them scrambling. They know that their opaque, secretive, and cronyist approach to governing causes Canadians more than a drifting malaise. The Cons’ behaviour now has a name. Contempt.

Contempt is to Spring 2011 what Prorogue was to Spring 2010. It’s a hook for voters to hang their unhappy hats on. In the heat of the prorogation furore, the Liberals came as close as they’ve been in a long while to outpolling Team Harper. Having suddenly crashed into that realisation, the CPC are throwing ballast out of the balloon as fast as they can, and without any hint of their legendary coolness.

Here’s the crime bill budget, fine, take it and read it. Alright, we’re happy to call for an RCMP investigation into illicit manoeuvres by Tory staffer Sebastien Togneri, who to stymied press rights to Freedom of Information. O.K., fine, while we’re at it, here’s David Carson, Harper aide who’s peddled his influence for business dealings, and yes, maybe there’s a connection to an escort. Take it all. Don’t say we never did nothing for you.

It’s a hectic week for Team Harper. Flipping aloofness into a semblance of concern. Flipping denial into admission. But you can’t express genuine contrition by just scatter-gunning multiple confessions of wrongdoing and abuse, all of a sudden, only under the most extreme duress of democratic procedure, in what is gearing up to be the final week of the 40th Canadian Parliament.

It smells like election panic.

Recommend this post atProgressive Bloggers

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , , , ,

A wee reminder about 2006

Polling trends across the 2005/06 federal election. Looked pretty rosy for Paul Martin at first.....

See the big image of 2005/06 election campaign polls here.
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Sooo, today’s polls suggest it would be sheer madness for the Liberals to encourage an election now. Madness! Can we survive on faith alone that the high-level scrutiny of an electoral campaign will somehow reverse Ignatieff’s dreadful fortunes?

We can use more than faith – let’s use an example!

Federal election 2006. When the campaign kicked off, you basically had the inverse of the LPC/CPC numbers today. Martin in low- to mid-thirties, Harper in the high twenties.

What’s more, the Tories success in turning that campaign around wasn’t just through plodding away with those “one policy item a day” releases. Those helped. But the switch in voter intention also happened directly after Christmas Day, running up through New Years. Is there something to that? Many voters were off work, finished with their shopping, and were finally cloistered with family and friends for a few days with little to do but talk, think, watch the news, and talk and think some more.

A population that thinks and talks is always going to threaten the incumbents.

Should a 2011 election campaign span across the Easter break, you never know – Canadians just might find themselves with a bit more free time, and in the middle of few more conversations about the country. I can’t see how that would be good for Harper.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , ,

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