Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Someone get me the porter...

The Globe has a nice article on the political fall-out of Porter Airlines. The Star also has a nice piece. Porter landed its first plane yesterday. David Miller was not invited.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Barbarians, Squids, and Bikes

I've passed a couple of strangely enriching days. This evening I finished Waiting for the Barbarians. It is Coetzee’s allegory of colonialism, a story of an Empire’s army awaiting the incoming barbarians; an army perhaps never coming. Its protagonist is a frontiering Magistrate, soon orthogonal to the interests of the Empire. Perhaps Coetzee’s best work, it is typically clinical and cold. It captures the essential brutality of the Empire in one sentence: “The jackal rips out the hare’s bowels, but the world rolls on.”

On Sunday, Sam and I watched The Squid and the Whale. The third in a promising line of films by Noah Bambauch, it is a dark and drawing account of a divorce of two middling writers and their children's struggles in the aftermath. It is The Royal Tenenbaums with no happy ending, no sense that arrogant and dirt cheap fathers can come round, and no appeal to genius as an explanation for bad behaviour. And aside from this, it’s wonderfully shot and as given to detail as Wes Anderson’s work (which is little surprise as Anderson was a producer of the film, and Bambauch was his partner on The Life Acquatic). I, of course, am late in seeing it, but if you’re as behind the times as me, please do take it as recommended.

Last evening, Sam and I pulled apart the bikes for some routine maintenance. It was gas tanks on the lawn, fairings and side panels off, down to the frame stuff. I shall not be the first to take motorcycle maintenance as a metaphor for life, but it is still cause for reflection. These machines are so human – they have symmetry and a modularity about them which is so like us. And underneath all the plastic they are just a few simple parts held together by a bucket of bolts. But it’ll carry you as far and as long as you want to go. The only limits are your ambitions, the elements, the occasional chance meeting with something much larger, and the way things occasionally break down without reason. With some recklessness and a good bit more thought you can go forever on these things, however simple they are underneath.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Is Elizabeth May in it for the green?

Elizabeth May has been elected leader of the Green Party. She is a most impressive person and should do just fine as leader of the party.

Her election probably marks an ideological break from the party under Jim Harris. More interesting to me is whether it marks a real strategic break. Specifically, is the party going to focus on actually winning a seat, or just on cashing in after each election?

When Bill C-24 (Chretien's campaign finance legislation) was introduced it provided a per vote subsidy to parties, rather than refunding them on money spent. Andre Blais and I have spent a little bit of time figuring out the effects of this on party mobilization strategies and voter turnout. In a paper coming out in the CJPS we find that it likely had no effect by way of the major parties (you can read a draft of the paper here). However, it does appear that efforts of Green party candidates may have increased turnout marginally (Andre and I explore this in a forthcoming chapter in Lisa Young's volume on C-24. I have an addendum on this for anyone who is interested). This is because the party began running candidates in every riding in 2004, most of whom used the "Vote for us and we get $1.75" pitch at the door. To be clear, Jim Harris was not principally interested in winning seats, but in expanding the financial basis of the party. Based on the money they received last year - about a million and half dollars - he was successful.

Ultimately, the purpose of a party is to win seats and represent interests in Parliament. For the Greens, this probably requires focussing on a few ridings and gearing party efforts towards them. Whether Elizabeth May accomplishes this remains to be seen. But I suspect she is in it for the Green and not the green.

Blue Helmets

Even with the grain of salt one should take when reading the Weekly Standard (or the Nation for that matter), this article is a bit disturbing, no? (h/t to SDA).

Racoons on Toronto Island Airport

The Toronto Star has a nice long feature this morning on Porter Airlines, which is soon to commence flights between the Toronto Island Aiport and Ottawa. It's an airline with a pretty serious management team and ambitions of flying to 17 destinations. I've never understood the economics of running a successful airline very well. But it is my sense that if I was ordering 10 new planes at a cost of $25 million each I would want to be sure that the airport I was flying them from would be functional ten years out. As it stands, there certainly seems to be a lot of uncertainty around the Toronto Port Authority and the island airport, not to mention the ensuing squabble between the airport and Air Canada Jazz. So let's hope they have their racoons in a row.

More generally, if the merits of new turboprop planes are what they are said to be - they are comparatively quieter than jets and less consumptive of fuel - then perhaps it's a shame that the Mayor of Toronto is so opposed to a successful commerical airport in the city's waterfront. My limited experience of flying into city airports and my more extensive experience of flying into far-flung airports (hello Halifax, hello every RyanAir destination) suggests that nothing matches getting from your flight to your downtown destination in less than twenty minutes. What is more, the Star article suggests that the Porter additions to the island airport should make it among the world's nicest small, public airports. I wish them all the best.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Mo Money Mo Problems

Bill Cross taught me an important metaphor when I was an undergrad trying to figure out political science . He described campaign finance regulation like a bucket full of holes and cracks. As soon as you plug one hole the water finds or creates another. It's not any different with C-24, I think. (For an academic cut on C-24, I self-servingly point you here and here).

This is most likely true with the widespread use of loans by Liberal leadership candidates. As I understand the legislation (and I am happy to stand corrected) a candidate can only draw out loans at a rate of prime or higher and must demonstrate intention to pay them back. In other words, the loans are real. However, if the loans remain 18 months after the election's conclusion, they can be forgiven. This is most obviously important, as otherwise a candidate could be permanently indebted, paying all of her or his future donations from here to eternity towards their loan. But there is also a clear problem with this legislation: it clearly allows donations larger than the limit to be made. Indeed, lenders need only forgive the loan after 18 months and forgo a tax credit.

Which brings me to Stephane Dion and Maurizio Bevilacqua. First, in the case of Bevilacqua, I think we should all wonder rather loudly if Bob Rae or members of his team offered to pay off his debts. This can probably be done in the C-24 context with only a minor stretch of the rules. And given the money around Rae, we ought to think it a possibility. But Liberals ought to know prior to the convention.

Now, in the case of Dion, this story suggests that he has borrowed $550,000 from people who have then committed to fundraising to pay off those loans. In other words, John Smith loaned Dion X thousand dollars and will now fundraise in Dion's name to pay this off. First, this is a bad fundraising strategy, as individuals are less receptive to hearing that their money will go to pay off debt rather than going directly to the candidate. Second, if Dion were not of absolutely unimpeachable character, I would seriously question the appropriateness of this scheme. Essentially, he is allowing individuals to fundraise in his name for their own private gain. And, he is risking either having serious personal debts after the race or having to consider the possibility of anxious lenders running around figuring out how to recoup their money following the race. There's not a lot of money in the race right now, and they'll be even less for the 9 losers following the race. Who knows what promises get made when it's time for debts to be forgiven.

Hey brother, can you spare a dime?

Jason Cherniak spins more than a washing machine. A couple of weeks ago, Jason assurred everyone that Stephane Dion was flush with cash, the cheques just hadn't been processed, the campaign was raking in the bucks, they had found a way to turn lead to gold, etc. As it turns out, they're just good at borrowing money. Dion best start asking more people to give him money or he is going to run out down the stretch.

The article is revealing for another reason: Dion claims they need money to pay for delegates. This is, perhaps, the worst use of campaign resources. The $1500 one has to pay to get a delegate from BC to come to Montreal could be spent on 1000 pieces of direct mail to other candidates' delegates who are committed to coming. Were I hoping to grow at the convention, this is where most of my money would be going. Not to subsidizing the delegate and convention fees of one vote.

Of course, Dion need not worry, as a half million bucks probably just got lost in the mail somewhere. Right, Jason?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Night Ride

Sam and I left Ottawa at 5 on Friday. We had designs of coming into North Bay at 8:30 or 9, a little after sunset. We then spent an hour on the 417 crawling towards Kanata. So, by choice or not, we would be making a night ride across Highway 17. It’s a drive I’ve made countless times, heading home from Montreal for weekends and holidays, and most usually at night. But this was the first time on the bike.

The road winds alongside the Ottawa River, climbs out of the Ottawa Valley, and eventually takes a turn at Mattawa towards North Bay. Along the way you pass through towns with names rivaling Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump. There is Pembroke, Petawawa, Deep River, Laurentian Hills, Rapides des Joachims, the Townships of Head, Clara, and Maria, then Mattawa and the race for home.

By the time we finished dinner at the Big Stop in Pembroke we knew we’d be riding in the dark. By the time we hit Deep River it was black and almost pitched. Soon we were the only two things on the road, high beams lighting up the trees and rock cuts, and alerting the drivers coming over the hills in the other direction. As we climbed higher the air got cooler. When we came down to Deux Rivieres, where you cross a strip of land with water on both sides, we pushed through a patch of fog and flies. Then we were back on the throttles, stopping only to make phone calls to worried parties, add layers, and clean our face screens.

As it gets darker the sky gets clearer and the stars brighter, but the road hides more. The moonlight cannot get through the canopy of rock cuts and pines. And when it is just pines on the sides you keep your eyes peeled for deer. We saw only a fox which ran in front of my bike. It startled me, though nothing like the time I was a passenger in a car driving through Algonquin on the way from Sackville to Huntsville and woke up to see the chest of a moose out the driver’s side window. His head so high we passed clear underneath it, and Janine Rogers so shocked she pulled the car over.

For the last half of the ride I can think of only three things. The time I made this drive at Christmas and saw a fire across a field and a group of people gathered around it. I wanted more than anything to stop and join them, but knew better things were waiting farther down the road. Then, the sense of relative isolation, alone but for my riding partner in the middle of nowhere, and thinking of what would happen if we were to meet a deer. And then, the Charity of Night:

The damage and the dying done
The clarity of light
Gentle bows and glasses raised
To the charity of night

By the time we arrive in North Bay the whole crew is there. We’ll repeat the ride back on Sunday, but not before being reminded of why it is worth the miles. And not before glassed raised to the charity of night.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Orchard versus Bevilacqua

This week saw two relatively important endorsements in the Liberal leadership race. To recap, Bob Rae received the endorsement of leadership candidate failure but long-term MP Maurizio Bevilacqua. Stephane Dion received the endorsement of David Orchard, who failed in his one attempt at becoming an MP but, given his starting position, did pretty well in both leadership races in which he ran. So, who is the winner among Rae and Dion? Dion.

Let's set aside lack of ideological congruity between either of the pairs (do you really believe Bob Rae is going to listen to Maurizio on the economy, or Dion to Bevilacqua on same-sex marriage?). The question comes down to organization, with both campaigns claiming that the endorsment will help in Saskatchewan. According to Diebel, Bevilacqua signed up about 200 people in Saskatchewan. Rae signed up 500 (and he was already in first). So they have about 700 members combined.

Dion was non-existant in the province. And while it's not known how many people Orchard signed up, he must have signed up enough to be courted as he was.

So, Rae is still in the lead, but Dion is now in the game, at least. Moreover, Orchard's people are much more likely to follow his lead than Bevilacqua's and probably more likely to turn out. Finally, if one assumes that the majority of the new members which Bevilacqua brought in were urban, then the real advantage goes to Dion who is likely to now have a campaign which is competitive in five or six rural ridings. In short, Dion got the better pick up.

As for the rest of the country, I remain, along with many, entirely uncovinced Maurizio had anything going on. If he cannot convince his two caucus supporters to follow his lead, how can he expect the few members he signed up to do the same?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Love goes to building on fire (and five other random thoughts)

I spent four years in lovely Sackville, NB when I was at Mount A, trying to learn something about political science and economics. I also lived a pretty interesting and fulfilling life, as most every student in Sackville does. Part of this was hitting the Snack Shop every Tuesday for $1 LB subs and burgers and the Tim's on the way to class. Alas, no more. The oldest wood building in Sackville went up in flames on Friday. Wolfe Wylie has great local coverage, and demonstrates why aspiring journalists with blogs are the place to go for detailed local news. Send some positive thougths out to all the dwellers and proprietors picking up the pieces.

Random Thoughts

ONE: Jim Johnson is a great political philosopher at the University of Rochester. He also keeps a great blog on photography and political philosophy. It will serve you well to add him to your blog roll. Jim's one of twenty world class political scientists in a department of twenty. Among them is this guy, who taught me that random variables are neither random nor variable. In exchange I taught him how to paddle a kayak.

TWO: Cherniak contends that David Orchard will endorse Stephane Dion tomorrow. This will be an interesting test of Dion's mettle. He will certianly play up their genuine and shared concerns about the environment. But the big question is whether Dion will feign any agreement with Orchard on his economic pet peeves. My breath is held.

THREE: These two people are absolutely amazing. Around the world in 19 days! Forget Ewan MacGregor and his accompanying crew. These two blasted 19000 miles in less than three weeks.

FOUR: As some of the people closest to me get older and pass on into their final years I have more and more trouble wrapping my head around that stage of life. This song is a masterful treatment of it.

FIVE: I would trade a finger to write one paragraph as well as Coetzee. Life and Times, Boyhood, Youth, Slow Man, and now Waiting for the Barbarians. Let me know if anyone can arrange a deal.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Folding and Holding - Maurizio and Rae

For those following the Liberal leadership race - which is about 0.1% of the population - the big news today was Maurizio Bevilacqua's withdrawal and support of Rae.

My own view is that this is quite bad for Dion and Kennedy and not all bad for Ignatieff. MI is clearly the frontrunner and has to hope that a clear Anybody-But-Ignatieff candidate does not emerge too early. Leaving aside his obvious talents, Bob Rae is not that candidate - he is too polarizing and still too haunted by his term in Ontario. Dion or Kennedy could be that candidate, so the shift in momentum to Rae and away from them makes them the big losers today. Ignatieff would have done well to get Bevilacqua's support, but I suspect he wasn't offering what the Rae team was.

Immediate and most certainly wrong explanations aside, this does raise the more general question of when is the optimal time for candidates to exit a race? I've sketched out a couple of quick and dirty models of this today, and this is where my thinking is at. First, assume that a candidate's utility is a function of the final place in which they finish less their expected place and less the cost of being in the race. The cost of remaining in the race is a function of the money they have to expend to reach any given point and the opportunity cost of not supporting another candidate earlier.

Take the case of a candidate like Carolyn Bennett. Expectations are, shall we say, not terribly high for her (though finishing sixth would be much better than finishing last). Whatever place she finishes in, expectations are not high, so that cost term is minimal. Now, provided she can keep her costs down, her cost for staying in the race need not be high in monetary terms. Moreover, as expectations are not high for her (especially in terms of the delegates she will collect), then her support is not worth terribly much right now. She is probably better to go to the convention where she can sell her support at a premium on the convention floor. For her, the upside is in staying in. The same, I think, can be said for Hall Findley and Fry.

But what of middling candidates like Brison and Dryden? They are almost certain to finish sixth or worse. They are not sixth place caliber candidates, so a finish at that level is almost certain to disappoint. Moreover, by the time one of them is off the ballot at the convention the die will likely be cast and the winner apparent. The support of the remaining candidate isn't worth a lot then. Add to this the cost of running full-on national campaigns and the costs quickly outweigh the benefits. If they were to drop out of the race now, however, they could tell a story like Maurizio about how they are actually in the top five but how it is best for the party that they throw their weight behind another candidate. And they can do it at a higher price as momentum is now a highly sought commodity.

As for candidates who will finish fourth or better, I think all the calculations go out the window. A lot of things can happen on a convention floor, and the probability of winning is probably evenly distributed between the second, third and fourth place candidates, regardless of whatever they may be offered prior to the convention.

The only remaining question is what you do when no one wants your support? Joe?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Some random thoughts - a second post

Kinsella calls this flotjam, or something, does he not? Whatever the moniker, here are some good thoughts on a Sunday night after a great week in Halifax:

Josh Ritter is awesome. David Myles is to be credited for playing him for me last Saturday and for not laughing at me hearing him for the first time about two years after everyone else. You should also listen to David before you're two years behind as well.

This is a great if dated article on the integration of train stations and airports. With ten year's hindsight it's largely on the mark.

The Nonsuch 33 is an engineering marvel. It's an absolute travesty it is no longer made. If I can take the helm, then it's not a hard boat to navigate. Thanks to Mike Patrick for temporarily suspending his better judgement.

And this is a great bike to take you into the sunset, if not quite the engineering feat of the Nonsuch.

Finally, Linda Diebel has at once shown her ability to write a nice profile when she tries and her absolute inability to read the tea leaves of membership numbers. That's all for now.