Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Chaotic Weather

You have to love Winnipeg. Over this September the temperature's fluctuated between high 20s to 30 degree Celsius sunny conditions to temperatures in the low teens, fostering hail.

As someone who does their fair share of cycling, I've been quite confounded as to what to wear.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Whatever the result, manufactured majority almost certain

In this election voter attitudes in South Winnipeg will decide the outcome. The Manitoba Liberals may be squeezed out of existence - there's a chance River Heights will go PC and Kevin Lamoureux's old riding of Inkster has been transferred into The Maples and the new district of Tyndall Park. The district of Tyndall Park will go Dipper - as Wellington goes NDP and Lamoureux's one of the only reasons Inkster goes Liberal - and I see no reason for The Maples to buck the trend of voting in New Democrats.

Depending on whether some recent scandals (or, at least political faux pas's) involving funding announcements hurt the incumbents, a PC or NDP majority will be elected. The screwed way our "Winner Takes All" system works to favour majorities and regionally concentrated parties will ensure it. The Liberals will likely go extinct and the Greens won't make inroads into Wolesley.
While I don't think it's time for a radical turn the centre, I certainly dislike how our choices are shrinking and the scope of debate narrowing.

Please, Manitoba, consider electoral reform.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Au revoir, Aqua Books

Image Source: Jane Day Reader
  Aqua Books will close some (unspecified) time in the future. The owners blame a shift away from reading printed books due to electronic media. I, for one, sorta find that hard to believe - I know some light reading should decline with the rise of netizens, but you really can't read lengthy books on a computer screen*.

Regardless, the closure of the Eat! bistro and Aqua books really sucks. The Eat! bistro was one of the few places a person with Celiac - like myself - could go to get gluten-free pastries. It was also a forum for many lively and thought-provoking cultural events.

Farewell, Aqua Books. I'll certainly miss you.

*Maybe Kindle solves this problem, I don't know as I've never used one.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Well-known trends

Well, on Sept. 20 there's going to be an all-parties electoral forum on "Post-Secondary Education: The Next Four Years" at Caboto Centre. Jennifer Howard (NDP), Sonny Dominique (PC), Dustin Hiles (Liberal) and James Beddome (Green) are set to attend. Given certain trends, I wonder if any candidates will be unable to attend.

If Marni "U of W is a no-fly zone" Larkin  - the linchpin of Winnipeg conservatism - has her way, my money's on at least one no-show.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Jets back under Dippers vindicate McFadyen?

The Black Rod is Winnipeg's hermetically sealed Hard Right blog. There you get to see the musings of a group of "citizen journalists" (all with strikingly similar writing styles) who huff and puff about the happenings of this great city and province.

A post on McFadyen has two features. It recognizes that the NDP have succeeded in defining the campaign issues thus far, but claims that the return of an NHL Franchise to Winnipeg vindicates McFadyen.

On May 31, 2011, Mark Chipman announced that NHL hockey had returned to Winnipeg. The Jets were back. The news electrified the province. It should have had Hugh McFadyen doing cartwheels at Portage and Main. He should have bought every billboard in town to carry his face smiling ear-to-ear and the message "I told you so" to every voter in the province.

Because McFadyen was the only politician who even dreamed that the return of the Jets was a possibility.

It's right there on the record. It had been the centrepoint of his 2007 provincial election campaign. And it cost him the election.

Four years ago McFadyen ran on a bold theme: if we can dream it, we can do it. And the biggest dream in Winnipeg, certainly, was to have the Jets back.

("Hugh McFadyen's dream plan to win the '11 election" - The Black Rod)
Let's look at the history of good ol' PC NHL promises and why they're (rightly so) electoral poison.

The first Winnipeg Jets left this city in 1996, 8 years into the Tory government of Gary Filmon. The Provincial Tories had won re-election in large part by exploiting the "Save the Jets" campaign to get young male voters, despite the immense damage their austerity programs were doing to the consumer base of this province.* The Jets still left.

So, it turned out that very specific public policy didn't bring back the team.

Next election, with the scandal of certain Tory staffers trying to run independent aboriginal candidates to split the centre-left vote and without the cheap ploy of saving the Jets, Filmon lost. The NDP wins, the macroeconomy improves, and Manitoba experiences steady, modest growth with a strong public sector. Canada, more generally, is doing well.

The issue of the Winnipeg Jets is brought up again in 2007, by new PC leader Hugh McFadyen:

If the Progressive Conservatives are elected the next government of Manitoba, they will work to "bring back the Winnipeg Jets," the party's leader announced Monday.

"People, I think, have been reluctant to become too hopeful and too optimistic because of the negative experiences of the past," PC leader Hugh McFadyen said Monday.

"What we're saying is, 'Let's be bold again. Let's start to think optimistically about our future.'"

McFadyen used the MTS Centre, the new arena in downtown Winnipeg, as a backdrop for his announcement. The arena had 15,000 empty seats, which he said helped to illustrate the 35,000 people he said have left the province since the NDP came to power in 1999.

“We need to increase Manitoba's cool factor if we want our young people to stay," he said. "The first step is to bring back the Jets."
("Tories vow to help Winnipeg Jets return" - CBC, 2007)

Now, what was the relevance of the oh-so-unpopular policy of getting back the Jets? According to The Black Rod, at the time:

It wasn't about the Winnipeg Jets, a hockey team.
It was about dreaming of a Manitoba that could afford NHL hockey, that could strive to be strong enough to attract the entrepreneurs needed to support a team. The Jets were a symbol, not a goal.

The goal was to build a Manitoba you could be proud of and which your children would value, not run from.

(2007 Black Rod)

Okay, so this "big idea" was about fostering winning economic conditions in Manitoba and turning the Keystone into a province that people could return home to. The 2007 Black Rod went on to express scepticism about Winnipeg being able to afford an NHL team in the near future, which was (or seems to be have been) unjustified.

There's a problem. Although McFadyen didn't specify when the Jets would return, he still seemed to imply that NDP policy wouldn't get the job done. The NDP, in 2007, had an interesting response:

"There's one person who can do this: it's Gary Doer," said campaign co-chair Andrew Swan.
"He's shown time and time again with projects coming to downtown Winnipeg that he's got the ability to partner with business leaders, with our universities, with other levels of government to get things done."
It's too early to estimate the likelihood of an NHL team returning to Manitoba, Swan said, although he did say public funding could be part of that discussion.
(2007 CBC article)

McFadyen wasn't the "only politician who dreamed the return of the Jets was a possibility". The NDP's 2007 campaign made it clear that, although the likelihood of immediate return was uncertain, the Dippers were the party for the job. This assumes that the job is possible!

The fact that NHL returned under an NDP government, which didn't politicize the issue as much** as the Tories did, vindicates the Dippers more. Doer may not have been the man in office to make the deal happen, but Manitoba's steady, modest growth under his administration and that of his successor ensured that Winnipeg could host an NHL team.**

Manitoba's steady, diversified way of growth was criticized by PCs and Liberals as too slow and dependent on equalization payments and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy  called it "stagnation". The Opposition parties promised rapid growth and instant tickets out of "have-not" status. The Frontier Centre envied the financially-driven capitalism of places like Iceland. Others lamented the rapid growth in other provinces.

Years into this recession, Manitoba's reliance on many industries and willingness to use a strong public sector to buttress the labour market in downturns is paying off. The workers, the consumer base of the economy, are doing better than elsewhere in Canada and Winnipeg now has the market for an NHL franchise. The unsustainable growth of other districts and the financial bubble in other countries has burst. Manitoba's bottom-up economics is looking pretty good. The Government's project of strengthening the fundamentals to realistically grow rather than trying to emulate the roller-coaster economy of other districts has paid off - Winnipeg can afford an NHL Franchise again because of general economic conditions fostered by broad economic policy (as opposed to specific "goodies" pledged to the League) as well as good luck.

In short, because a new "Morning in Manitoba" happened under the NDP rather than the PCs, The Jets coming back is a major blow to McFadyen.

*He was willing to give $37 million to projects to keep The Jets in Winnipeg, but that was a lost cause with the general state of Winnipeg's consumer base during the bad ol' days of 1996.

**Although there still is more politicization over the NHL announcement than there should be.

***There were, of course, many factors outside the realm of provincial public policy that allowed this to happen. The collapse of the US economy, a higher Canadian dollar, an economic boom in the West, and the discovery of some oil in southwestern Manitoba all contributed to the strength of Manitoba's economy.

On cushy corporate jobs

Remember that guy who led the fight to privatize MTS? What's his name... Gary Filmon?

I wonder where he is now.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Winnipeg Sun riles up would-be Rorschach

After years of the Winnipeg Sun spewing out poorly thought, sensationalist garbage on crime, at least one reader has taken the matter to heart. Someone who pens letters to the editor under the name "Mark Styles" wants to start punishing criminal youths personally:

Sick to the stomach

Re: ‘Welcome to Killerpeg,’ Tom Brodbeck, Sept. 2.

I agree with Tom and every other good citizen of this city who is sick to their stomach about of youth punks getting away with murder. To add insult to injury, we the public don’t even have the right to know who these youths are because it might be unfair to them.

Well, if any friend or family member of mine is ever brutalized by young punks, I won’t be lobbying our government or crying out and begging my MP to change our weak-wiled laws. I won’t for two reasons. One, there are simply too many bleeding heart liberals in this country to see any real significant changes occur, now or ever. Two, I prefer to take out my own garbage.


Appreciate your frustration, but vigilante justice isn’t a good idea.
(Hat tip to John Dobbin)

Thank you, Tom Brodbeck and thank you, Sun Media. This truly belongs in the Canadian Sun dailies Hall of Fame, right beside these reader comments to the Toronto Sun.

While crime in a pressing problem in Winnipeg and, for that matter, Manitoba in general, here's some perspective*. In 2009, Winnipeg had the highest homicide rate in Canada, with 4.1 murders per 100,000 residents. The homicide rate for the entire US (the most murderous cities averaged out with the safest in the nation) was 5 murders per 100,000 people.

The Winnipeg Sun, unsurprisingly, endorses the Dumb on Crime policy that the more murderous US uses.

*If anyone knows of any drastic distinctions between Canada's and America's definition of homicide that make this an unfair comparison, please let me know. The only one I can think of is America's broad definition of "justifiable homicide" (killing criminals under certain circumstances), which lowers the US homicide rate as justifiable homicides are counted separately from regular (unjustifiable) homicides.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Selinger: Exceeding (my) Expectations

Image Source: Queen's University News
Greg Selinger is one of the most popular premiers in Canada, according to a recent poll:

Premier Greg Selinger has one of the highest approval ratings in the country among Canada’s premiers, according to a recent survey by Angus Reid Public Opinion

Selinger had an approval rating of 52 per cent, good for third place, behind Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall (63 per cent) and Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale (58 per cent).


Quebec Premier Jean Charest had the lowest approval rating at 30 per cent, while Ontario’s Dalton McGuinty scored only slightly better at 31 per cent.
All in all, this is pretty good news for the NDP. It seemed that after Doer left, there was a tornado of bile directed at the "Selinger government" and the Manitoba NDP. It had me thinking that Selinger lacked charisma and was destined to be routed by the Provincial Tories come October. I was very biased by Stephane Dion analogies at that point and severely underestimated the Premier's likability. While he's phlegmatic, the NDP leader is also very personable.

More importantly, Selinger hasn't fallen into the trap so many US Democrats have, of backing down the very instant criticism arrives. Selinger's response to falling poll numbers was great:

If there's misinformation out there, then we have to correct the misinformation. But what we can't do is compromise the future of the province.
There is no "median voter" with stable policy preferences. A LOT of politics is about  persuading people that your vision for the region is right, not divining some illusive median position*. Flip-flopping hurts you, even if people agree with the position you flip-flopped to.

If anything, it seems that Hugh McFadyen's been reduced to caving into pressure, at least at the campaign level**. The NDP has defined the issues and the centre, the NDP will win pending no colossal screw ups in the next month.

*Incidentally, a lot of talk in the corporate media about the "centrist", "moderate", and "mainstream" position is just an underhanded way of journalists or their corporate bosses to inject their opinions into an article. In the USA, for instance, the public option was seldom if ever described as a "moderate" position, despite most Americans supporting it.

**I have a funny feeling that he was really serious when he talked about David Cameron inspiring him. That is to say, expect him to implement austerity after saying he'd wait until 2018 to fully balance the budget. Expect considerable tuition hikes in the Manitoba if McFadyen's elected.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Looks like I was wrong on McFadyen

He's flopped?

Image Source: Just Damn Stupid

  Okay, it seems that in spite of his New Right ideology (apparent if one examines his backroom record rather than rhetoric), McFadyen's personality is quite like that of a US Democrat. He's great at snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory.

Manitobans generally desire "a change" in government about every 10 years. Manitoba's former Premier Gary Doer made it clear that one of the reasons he resigned as Premier to take the ambassador job was because politicians tend not to last longer than 10 years. Greg Selinger certainly didn't exude charisma, like Doer, and certainly got a lot of negative feedback his first few months in office. Bi Pole III looked like it might be an issue (regardless of the idiocy of some of the claims about route), gang violence was making it into the news, and the Provincial Dippers were dipping in the opinion polls.

Several things happened. Hugh opened his mouth and proceeded to stick his foot their on several occasions with outlandish promises to reduce ambulance wait times while claiming that it's wrong for healthcare spending increases to outstrip inflation (to rise in REAL terms)*, Selinger handled the flood crisis well enough for many voters, and the Atlanta Thrasher relocated to Winnipeg, being rechristened as "The Winnipeg Jets" upon arrival - a very significant name. The last point, rightly or wrongly, sparked a renewed sense of "life really is better than it was 11 years ago because of this Government -  we got the Jets back!". Indeed, various reports on why Winnipeg is able to host an NHL Franchise again note several improved economic indexes, like the rate of employment (something that's been very high under the NDP Government) and higher disposable incomes.

The Manitoba NDP has spared no effort in reminding us of McFadyen's tenure as Chief of Staff for Gary Filmon. The striking parallels between McFadyen's promise not to privatize Manitoba Hydro (after aiding Mike Harris in privatizing Ontario Hydro) and Filmon's broken promise to keep MTS public speak volumes to Manitobans, 86% of whom oppose privatization. McFadyen's flip-flop on the deficit, from "NDP waiting until 2014 to finish eliminate it is unacceptable" to "it's perfectly acceptable to wait until 2018", will serve to further weaken his credibility and undermine all the political capital Tom Brodbeck's formed by painting the NDP as the party of spendthrift.The PCs cannot accuse the NDP plan of being inadequate to deal with the deficit without admitting that their own plan is more inadequate or that they're lying about what their plans really are.

Fortress Winnipeg will also serve in the NDP's favour this election. First Past the Post has resulted in skewed results in Manitoba before, after all the NDP seat count increased in 2007 even though it's popular vote fell. This structural unfairness and the heavy concentration of Winnipeg seats will serve the NDP well in a close race (the PCs/NDP are statistically tied in the polls) unless the Liberals make a longshot comeback in the urban core. Unfair as this is, that's the way Manitoba politics will work until a social movement pushing electoral reform gains clout.

All in all, I expect McFadyen to spend another 4 years in Opposition or resign. Anything can happen from now until October 4, but it looks like the PCs chances have come and gone.

*Healthcare spending, as well as the other spending areas he listed like law enforcement, would have to be "frozen" in real terms. Under a McFadyen administration (at least, under his imaginary admin under his PC paradigm of several months ago) the budget wouldn't grow in real terms at all from year to year. And while he may pretend that taking money away from administration in healthcare could really improve wait times that much, most people aren't stupid enough to fall for that (admin people are needed for stuff, you know). He promised you the right to have your cake and eat it too by claiming he could freeze spending and cut wait times.