Thursday, February 24, 2011

Liberals and Crime

Tom Flanagan crowed after the 2006 election that there are certain issues that just favour the Conservatives. The example he gave was the economy. No matter how successful the Liberals were in balancing the books and creating jobs, Conservative research suggested that when it came to economics people trusted the Conservatives more than they did the Liberals. It does not much of leap to suggest the same is true for crime. After all, to presume that the public has a working knowledge of each party's justice policies is giving the public way too much credit; the public trades in stereotypes and they are always going to believe that Conservatives are tougher on crime. This is especially so now. The Conservatives are in power and for this reason alone what they say with regard to crime garners headlines. By contrast, past Liberal support for some those Conservative tough on crime measures has drawn almost no attention at all. Of course, even if the Liberals were able to convince Canadians did support this or that Conservative measure, the Conservatives have a fail safe. They have claimed and will continue to claim that the Liberals had ability to introduce such policies when they were in power and failed to do so. No one likes a Johnny come lately.

So if the Liberals can not lessen the lessen the popularity of Conservative tough on crime agenda by towing the Conservative line, just what can they do? Well, they can try put the subject in different light. And at first blush it appears that have tried to do just that. The Liberals have reminded the public that "US style mega- prisons" come at a cost and questioned just how Canadian such policies truly are. "Canadians know that spending billions of dollars on US-style mega-prisons to lock up young people will only produce more hardened criminals. It’s a failed American crime policy, and it just doesn’t work."

The problem with such an approach is this. In words of great voting behavior researcher Philip Converse, the vast majority of voters show a lack of “constraint”: That is, they hold incompatible beliefs. Many voters simply do not recognize that tough on crime measures necessitate the building of "mega-prisons". If asked, they will say that they support the former but disagree with the later.

The Liberals know this. Indeed, Liberal marijuana policy, for example, is premised on there being such wide cognitive dissonance. On the one hand the Liberals have long maintained that Canadians should not be saddled with a criminal record for consuming something that is, after all, less harmful than alcohol. It is this light that Chr├ętien famously joked about having a joint in one hand and the money to pay for the fine of having it in the other. “I will have my money for my fine and a joint in my other hand.” On the other hand, just as they long downplayed the affects of smoking marijuana they have long stressed the importance of stiff penalties for trafficking. Both positions are wildly popular with the public, but run the two positions together and it is as if Chr├ętien said this instead. “I will have my money for my fine and a joint in my other hand. Having paid my fine I would hope the cops find the person who sold it to me in put him in jail for a very long time.” If the act of consumption is not deemed overly ruinous then the whole punitive rationale for trafficking comes crashing down. Add to mix an acknowledgment on behalf of the Liberal party that marijuana can serve a medical purpose and you have a conceptual train wreck as a policy.

Liberal supporters should take two things from this. One just because it Ignatieff is decrying "mega-prisons" now does not mean the party has seen the light. When it comes to crime, the party seems to have no qualms speaking out of both sides of its mouth. Two, however popular such denunciations of "mega prisons" might be it is not likely such talk will do anything to arrest the popularity of the Conservatives tough on crime agenda.

No, the only way the Liberals are going to be able to arrest the popularity of Conservative's get tough on crime agenda is by putting a legal elephant right in the middle of the room. Promising to legalize either marijuana or prostitution would do the trick. Hot topics draw in an ordinate amount of attention generally and starve any related issues of any oxygen altogether.

The question then becomes would either policy would pay off politically. With regard to the later I just do not know. However, with regard to the former I am convinced it would be a political winner for the Liberals.

Polls consistently show that the Canadian public supports the legalization of marijuana by a wide margin. So the public is receptive to the idea already. More importantly, the arguments for legalizing marijuana are far more robust than the arguments for increasing the penalties for trafficking. Indeed, the later are often so bad as to have earned the name "reefer madness". As with SSM, the advantage of such an issue lies not with the popularity of such a proposal per say as the cost to the Conservatives of having their talking points savaged by the media for months on end. It is the process not the polls that really matter. I do not care what the issue is if your talking points been savaged by the media and informed public over a long period of time, you are going to hurt on the polls. The more prominent or controversial the issue the worse it gets.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Liberal Messaging

Since Peter Donolo took over, Liberal messaging has been 100 times better. Still, problems remain. The party badly needs an attack dog or dogs. Politics is a blood sport. You have to be prepared to give as good as you get. If the Conservatives want to dig up old quotes, the Liberals should do likewise. It is laughable that Conservatives have been able to play the nationalist card with quotes like these from Harper lying about.

"Canada appears content to become a second-tier socialistic country, boasting ever more loudly about its economy and social services to mask its second-rate status"

"Any country with Canada’s insecure smugness and resentment can be dangerous."

The Liberals also need to start developing additional talking points aimed not at a broad audience but at political pundits, and political junkies. Above all else the party needs to challenge the legions of conservative columnists least various conservative position become received wisdom. Factual errors need to be pointed out, non sequiturs need to be mocked and detailed arguments provided. Again the party needs to be vicious. Ignatieff talks about wanting to the be the party that bases its decisions on sound reasoning and science. A good way of establishing such a reputation is take a conservative pundit out to the wood shed on occasion. When a conservative columnist retires the Liberals should share Trudeau's lament: "I'm sorry I won't have you to kick around any more." Darwin had Thomas Huxley; the Liberals need their own bulldog.

Lastly, the Liberals need to touch on hot button issues again. Since the 2006 election the Liberals have steadfastly avoided them. Politically this has been disastrous. Social issues have always been the Conservatives Achilles' heel. Of course, the ability of the Liberals to capitalize on such issues by just talking about them only goes so far. So long as the Liberals show an unwillingness to put forward socially liberal policies, the Conservatives are not likely to oblige the Liberals by talking about hot button issues. The Liberals have to put forward a socially liberal agenda in order to fully capitalize.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Liberal problems run deep

The Liberals think that they can win the next election by rolling out a safe middle of the road platform. They are wrong. There is no push to throw the bums out and there is no evidence whatsoever the Liberals are gaining any traction with the public. The Conservatives have the advantage of being the party in power, they are better organized, their policies clearer, their messaging is generally better and they have far more money. If the electorate if given a choice of voting for middle of the road Conservative platform and middle of a road Liberal platform, they are going to go with the Conservatives.

So the question is can the Liberals turn things around. I doubt it. Igantieff is looking older and more gray by the day, there is nothing in the platform to hold the public's attention for very long and even though talk of fiscal responsibility and democratic institutions bore the public to tears, the party seems determined focus on them nonetheless. All of this is obvious.

What is less obvious is this. The Liberals seem blind to the fact that some of their core philosophy, viz., a commitment to equity and collective rights, is deeply unpopular with large segments of Canadian society. Weather it be the funding for religious schools in Ontario, or special treatment of Quebec many Canadians are deeply offended at the very suggestion that government monies and policy should be used to protect and or foster minority interests. Furthermore, weather one believes that employment equity, for example, actually makes the government less efficient is beside the point, a commitment to equity is incompatible with the liberal notion of a government built around merit. Hiring the best person for the job is far cry from using the government as a counterpoint to perceived and actual deficiencies in the private sector employment. So long as the philosophy of equity rules, conservatives will have an easy time claiming that government is the problem.

It gets worse for the Liberals. With the party long since having abandoned a commitment to universality it is not surprisingly that many Canadians believe that the Liberals are solely committed to using public monies to benefit minorities.

All of this is one more reason why it is vitally important that the Liberals recommit to universality and that the the party develop policies that offer a concrete benefit to Canadians -- all Canadians.

Childcare is obvious place to start. The problem is that the Liberal,s early childhood education program is unmediated disaster. The goal of the program was ostensibly to work with the provinces to set up an early childhood education program for children under 6. However, to the average voter this amounted to little more than a vague promise to provide more daycare at sometime in the future; they could not figure out what this would mean for their lives. To add insult to injury, the Liberals willingness to consider different deals for different provinces has muddied things all the more.

If the Liberals reintroduce such a program in the future, they need to present it in a form in which voters can understand, with a clear time line and that they make sure they offer parents a clear and tangible benefit. They could, for example, promise to provide all day preschool and kindergarten for every 3 and 4 year old in Canada two years after an election.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Marijuana prohibition is comming to an end: the Liberals need a Plan

Proposition 19 failed, but the issue will likely be revisited in 2012 and this time it will likely pass. Voter turn for mid term elections is always significantly less than when the presidency is up for grabs. For proposition 19 to have stood any chance of winning Democrats, and the young needed to be energized. They were not and stayed away in droves. Even with everything stacked against them, though, the yes campaign still garnered 46% of vote.

Legal production of marijuana in California will make the legislation of marijuana elsewhere in the US all but inevitable and extension in Canada as well. Obama is not going to go to war with California in order to maintain a federal prohibition. Indeed, it was Obama that set the wheels of legalization in motion by declaring that he would not crack down on medical marijuana. For you see, unlike in Canada, in California, for example, one does not have to be afflicted with a particular aliment to be eligible for medical marijuana. A doctor can proscribe marijuana for whatever they see fit. Needless to say, such a system is ripe for abuse and the Bush administration was right to see medical marijuana program as a potential Trojan horse. But Obama let wooden horse to be wheeled into California and other States anyway. In so doing, Obama has allowed the medical marijuana industry in California and elsewhere to grow to the point there is no saving prohibition for Odysseus. There are more medical marijuana dispensaries in LA than Starbucks.

The Liberals need to come up with a plan. Canada needs to come up with a plan. The loss of the billion dollar industry, albeit an illegal industry is going to have an impact.

The natural response, indeed, the only response, is to beat the Americans to the punch. Far from being political poison, political legalization has a lot of upside for the Liberals. It would drive a wedge between libertarians and Theo cons. It would appeal to people who would otherwise would not vote -- most notably young Canadians. It would be popular in the very provinces and regions that the Liberals actually have a chance of making headway, e.g., urban Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec. It would garner a lot of positive international exposure. It would leave the Conservatives defending discredited Reefer Madness arguments. Above all else, the lynch pin in the opponents arguments, viz. that the US will not stand for it, is quickly be worn away.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Liberal Corporate Tax Cut talking points nowhere to be found

Corporate tax cuts promises to be one of the main points of contention during the next election. So one would think the Liberals would have a stack of well developed talking points devoted to the issue, but alas one would be wrong. Go to the Liberal website and this what you will find.

"The Conservative plan is to put us another $6 billion into debt by giving more tax cuts to profitable corporations – when corporate taxes are already low."
That is it.

Christ. You would think that Liberals would point out that the annual cost would be 6 billion a year and as such cost would quickly add up to one hell of a lot more than just 6 billion, but that little ditty seems to be lost on the Liberal staffer who wrote the above blurb. They might also have pointed out that 6 billion pays for a hell of a lot of daycare spots.

Moving on. How low is low? It would nice if they put Canada's corporate tax rate into context. At the very least point out that it lower than the States.

How profitable is profitable? Corporate profits in Canada have long been higher than pretty much any where else. Pointing this out would greatly undermine the Conservative position.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Europe's debt Crisis in a nut shell for lazy ass conservative bloggers

"One of the problems is, the Liberal message is being seen in the UK, Spain, Ireland, Greece, California etc. Right now, the Liberal message is more social programs which means higher taxes."

My God. Do not be so lazy. For starters, understand the difference between Liberal and liberal. There is nothing liberal about the Liberal party of BC for example. They are conservative. Take the time to read up on what actually happened in Europe, the governments in power at the time, their policies ect. It beyond ludicrous to lump the UK, Spain, Ireland, Greece, California together.

Greece has always been an economic basket case. For Christ sake, it has defaulted 7 times in since 1945.

However, prior to the down turn, Spain, Ireland and UK were in fine fiscal shape. All had gross debt levels that were lower -- in the UK's case much lower, than they are here and Spain and Ireland were running surpluses. All 3 though had allowed huge real estate bubbles to inflate.

Once real estate bubbles started deflating all over the western world, the UK and Ireland pumped huge sums of money to prop up their banks and furthermore took responsibility for enormous private debts incurred by their banks. As a result, their debt to GDP ratios sky rocked. In the less than a year Ireland's debt to GDP ratio doubled!

At the same time as governments everywhere were busy saving their banker's bacon, government revenues collapsed and governments were saddled with higher bills for things like unemployment Insurance. Some European countries tired to make up for a huge drop in demand by introducing various fiscal stimulus and this inflated their budget deficits greater still. However, in no case was the fiscal stimlus package particularly large. Indeed, in many cases their was no fiscal stimulus at all. This was the case in Ireland. Not only was there no fiscal stimulus there, the Irish government also made deep cuts to social services and sharply raised taxes.

Needless to say, the kind of Hoover economics now being practiced by all of battered European economies -- with the notable exception of Iceland -- is not addressing the underlying problem, viz., a sharp decline in aggregate demand and an associated decline in government revenues. To further complicate matters is that a common currency has meant that Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and Greece have not been able to deflate their currency in attempt to become more competitive and short term interest rates are already at record lows. As such, many still expect the worst. For them, it is not a matter of if Greece and Ireland will default on their debt obligations, but when.

So could such a crisis happen here? Damn skippy it could. Canadian consumer debt, most it related to spike in housing costs, is every bit as high as American consumer debt was prior to the crash. And again the crisis in Europe and US was brought on by a private debt crisis, associated with various real estate booms, that in turn created a public debt crisis. As for our much lauded banking system, Spain's banks are no less conservative in their lending pratices than Canadian banks, but a real estate bubble in Spain inflated and burst nonetheless. And why has the cost of housing gone through the roof since 2006? Well, the dumb ass Conservative government decided pour fuel on an already red hot real estate market. In their first year in office the Harper government increased the mortgage amortization period from 25 to 40 years, allowed for 0 down mortgages, and reduced the down payment on secondary properties from 20% to 5%. Ever since the down turn, Jim Flaherty and idiots have been scrabbling to undo the damage their actions have done. The maximum amortization period will soon be reduced to 30 years, and already a 20% down payment is required on secondary properties and 5% on primary properties. The problem is it is too little too late. The best Flaherty and idiots can do is prevent further damage. For one thing, since 2006 Canadian mortgage and housing corporations liabilities have gone from 100 billion to 500 hundred billion. If the housing bubble bursts and Canadians start defaulting on their mortgages, the Canadian tax payer will be picking up the tab. The Canadian government guarantees all that debt.

Friday, February 04, 2011

The media and the Liberal Message

The Liberals seem to have realized their ability to ability to get their message directly out to the Canadian people is very limited indeed. Perhaps this is why the party has not bothered developing extensive talking points on the most central of issues. One is not going to find the Liberals, for example, saying anything interesting about corporate tax cuts. The party seems happy just to have the media mention their platform. Such a minimalist strategy extends to the ads they produced recently. One ad draws attention to the F 35 purchase and the other ad to the planned corporate tax cut. Nothing else is said in either ad.

Fair enough. Such a strategy does have its advantages. Besides, most talking points aimed at the lay public are both stupid and simplistic and are a complete waste of time. The less of them the better. However for the Liberals to abandon entire issues altogether is fool hardy. The Liberals need to start developing talking points aimed not at a broad audience but at political pundits, and political junkies. Above all else the party needs to challenge the legions of conservative columnists least various conservative position become received wisdom. Factual errors need to be pointed out and non sequiturs need to be mocked. Be vicious. Ignatieff talks about wanting to the be the party that basis its decisions on sound reasoning and science. A good way of establishing such a reputation is take a conservative pundit out to the wood shed on occasion. When conservative columnist retires the Liberals should share Trudeau's lament: "I'm sorry I won't have you to kick around any more."