Canada is playing Russian Roulette in the Arctic

In the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008, Prime Minister Medvedev articulated a new Russian foreign

Russian Nuclear Icebreaker

Russian Nuclear Icebreaker

policy doctrine with stunning implications. The phrase that caught international attention was Medvedev’s statement that Russia enjoyed a “Sphere of Privileged interests’, which included those states which bordered upon Russia, but not limited to those states. To put the statement into context, Russia had just invaded a sovereign state, and severed the breakaway regions of South Ossetia, and Abkhazia from Georgia. Changing the borders of a neighboring state by military force was a clear violation of International Law, including the Charter of the UN. The situation leading up to Russia’s invasion was not an unambiguous case of innocent Georgia callously invaded by Russia. The Russian dominated regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia were under civil, and military pressure by Georgia, and Russia had avoided direct military engagement with Georgia until the Georgian Army took action against the breakaway regions. Yet neither was Russia blameless, as Russia maintained a military presence, and close economic ties which enabled the breakaway regions to thumb their noses at the Georgian government. One can readily envision the frustration of the Georgian government at Russian interference within their borders, and Russian threats should Georgia carry through with their plans to accede to a closer engagement with NATO, and the European Union.

In that context, a Russian Sphere of privileged interest gave the world notice that Russia did not consider themselves bound by treaties, the United Nations, or anything other than Russia’s interests when dealing with their sovereign neighbors. The additional comments by Medvedev that Russia did not seek to isolate herself, and wanted to work within the bounds of international law were no doubt intended to sound conciliatory, but had little real meaning when uttered in the wake of a flagrant breach of international law, and the sovereignty of a neighboring state. Since 2008, Russia has continued to meddle in the internal affairs of her neighbors, maintaining close contact and support with Russian communities such as the separatist enclave of Transdneistra in Moldova, the Baltic states, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and indeed all the former republics of the USSR. Recently, Russia has unambiguously invoked their ‘privileged interests’ with the invasion, and annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine, and further incursions into the Donetsk region of Eastern Ukraine. The fact that Russia had specifically guaranteed Ukraine’s territorial integrity by treaty both at the dissolution of the USSR, and by signing the Budapest memorandum guaranteeing Ukraine’s borders underscore Russia’s belief that their sphere of privileged interest trumps accepted international norms.

That brings me to a little reported, but in my opinion extremely significant utterance by Vladimir Putin on April 22. 2014 with respect to the Arctic. The following is a quote from the English translation provided by Putins official website: “This region has traditionally been a sphere of our special interest. It is a concentration of practically all aspects of national security – military, political, economic, technological, environmental and that of resources.” Please note that the official translation mimics the language used by Medvedev in articulating Russia’s ‘sphere of privileged interests’ policy to consider her interests in spite of restrictions imposed by international law. I do not believe that to be an accident. In fact, I would view this as a direct challenge to Canada specifically, and the 5 States vying for control over Arctic borders and resources more generally.

In happier days of 1996 the Ottawa Declaration, was issued as a joint communique whereby Russia joined with Canada, the USA, Denmark, Norway, and with less relevance Finland and Iceland in forming the Arctic Council. The function of the council was to provide, ” a high-level intergovernmental forum to provide a means for promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, with the involvement of the Arctic Indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues; in particular, issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic.” Over the years, there have been a number of multi-lateral agreements signed between the member states, including agreements governing safety and maintenance of new shipping routes expected to open as a consequence of global warming, and specifically the loss of ice cover in the Arctic ocean.

In 2008, the five nations bordering on the Arctic Ocean, (The US, Russia, Canada, Norway, and Denmark) signed the  Ilulissat_Declaration, which amongst other things, specifically agreed to submit to arbitration by the

Lomonosov Ridge looks Danish-Canadian to me.

Lomonosov Ridge looks Danish-Canadian to me.

Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. (CLCS). The CLCS is a body of Scientists elected by the member states of the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea). The function of the CLCS is simple. It adjudicates claims relating to exclusive economic zones based upon extensions of the Continental shelf. One of the key elements of UNCLOS is that signatories to the treaty are allowed to claim an exclusive economic zone over any extension of their territorial Continental shelf. The USA Senate has refused to ratify the treaty, so they are shut out of the high Arctic, but Russia has not been so short-sighted. In 2001, Russia made a claim that the underwater Lomonosov, and Mendeleev ridges are extensions of the Eurasian landmass, which extends Russia`s claim right into the heart of the Arctic Ocean. The CLCS gave Russia until 2012 to provide evidence that the Lomonosov ridge was indeed an extension of the Eurasian continental shelf.  Russia was supporting this claim when they conducted underwater surveys, and infamously planted the Russian flag on the sea bed at the North Pole in 2009. If you look at the Wikipedia bathyscopic map to the left, you will see that the Ridge appears to start at the North American Continental shelf, off the coast of Greenland-Ellesmere Island. It tapers into a quite tenuous connection to the East Siberian shelf.

Now this is where the colossal blunder our Conservative Government committed comes into the picture. On Dec.6, 2013 Canada made a ‘partial submisson‘ to the CLCS outlining our claims in the Grand Banks, and Labrador Sea. Canada had an equal opportunity to map the Lomonosov ridge starting from the Canadian end working North. There were alternate submission processes open to Canada but the salient point is that once the initial submission has been made to the CLCS, there is a ten year limit for presenting scientific data to support a claim, or counterclaim.  Once the CLCS makes recommendation based on the submitted data, the recommendations become final and binding upon all signatories to UNCLOS. Canada`s ten year limit expired on Dec 7, 2013, the tenth anniversary of Canada’s accession to UNCLOS with no Canadian submission of Arctic data. In other words, Canadian claims will be irrevocably determined by the data submitted by Russia. The legal issues are pretty well outlined in this paper by Dalaina Heiberg from UBC: Dalaina_Heiberg_submission

Why didn’t Canada submit their own evidence to the CLCS? We had TEN YEARS to prepare our case. The Government of Canada is strangely quiet about the reasons, but a hint can be found on the Foreign Affairs ministry website dated Oct 2011. Here is the quote: ”

Recommendation: That NRCan, DFO and DFAIT develop a plan to address future human resource and financial resource challenges. Evidence demonstrates that the Program currently has sufficient scientific and legal expertise to address its performance needs but there are funding shortfalls both prior to submission in December 2013 and for activities following submission. This is especially evident for DFAIT. Evidence suggests that the Program will not have the capacity to meet its objectives if these funding issues are not addressed.”

If you read the whole web page, you will find that DFAIT no longer has any scientists in their employ who are competent to prepare the Arctic submission. This was known in 2011, but nothing was done to rectify the problem. Can you believe it? I am having trouble with it myself. Proven resources in excess of 1.6 TRILLION tons of Oil and equivalents are at stake. From what Foreign Affairs had to say in 2011, Canada failed to make a case because the one competent scientist on the payroll was due to retire before the submission was prepared. Oh dear….

In the meantime, Russia has been far from idle. Amongst other measures announced on April 22, 2014 The Russian Army is forming two new Arctic brigades. Russia is commissioning the first of 4 nuclear power generating ships that also serve as Ice breakers. These are intended to provide power for drilling platforms, and the mainland infrastructure supporting Russia’s military. The Russian Arctic fleet represents 60% of Russia’s Navy, a total of approximately 80 warships, with new hulls under construction ongoing. A new signals intelligence infrastructure, staffed with 3,000 signals intelligence officers is to be constructed. Better and more satellite surveillance assets are to be deployed. This quote from Putin’s April 22 speech is illuminating:

“Meanwhile we are aware of the growing interest in the Arctic on the part of the international community. Ever more frequently, we see the collision of interests of Arctic nations, and not only them: countries far removed from this area are showing a growing interest as well. We should also bear in mind the dynamic and ever-changing political and socioeconomic situation in the world, which is fraught with new risks and challenges to Russia’s national interests, including those in the Arctic. I would like to repeat that, given the circumstances, we need to take additional measures so as not to fall behind our partners, to maintain Russia’s influence in the region and maybe, in some areas, to be ahead of our partners. These are our priority tasks. ”

In this context, it is laughable that Canada is about to commit some $40 billion to a fleet of single engine F-35`s that do not have the range for, and are unsafe to operate in the Arctic. It appears that we are preparing to bomb impoverished middle eastern states rather than defend our sovereignty in the high Arctic. Canada`s military shipbuilding program seems to be a complete shambles. The Arctic Patrol Ship Project purports to be building 6-8 Arctic patrol warships, but the thickened hulls are not suitable for year round use in the Arctic. They have been jokingly referred to as slush-breakers by Gary Stern, chief scientist aboard the CCGC Admundsun. The planned Coast Guard Ice Breaker, the John G Diefenbaker is an on again, off again project, whose cost has ballooned from $720 million to $1.3 billion before it has even left the drawing board. Will it be built? Apparently the new naval supply ships take precedence, so the earliest date for completion has now moved to 2021-2022 . There is little money for surveillance satellites, and no plans to ever build submarines that could actually function under the ice.

Canada is facing off against a serious, well prepared adversary in the Arctic. This adversary has thrown down the gauntlet to the world, and has proven their willingness to use force against their neighbours in pursuit of their interests. Canada could readily afford every military and civilian asset required to safeguard our Arctic borders, and resources.  I would suggest Canada should do so with hydrocarbons totaling 1.6 trillion tons, sovereignty over the Northwest passage, and Canada’s Arctic borders at stake. I understand that Irving Shipbuilding really really wants every penny the Canadian taxpayer is willing to give them, but there is a whole world filled with shipyards that are able and willing to build the ships Canada needs now, not in two decades. Based on what I have seen of the Canadian Governments competence at military purchasing from domestic vendors, it could be done quickly at a much lower cost. With a totally incoherent Arctic policy, and shambolic procurement plans, Canada is indeed playing Russian Roulette in the Arctic. Our children, and Grand-children will be cursing our incompetence in the decades to come.

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Arseny Yatsenyuk and the Ukraine’s ‘End Game’

Foxy Yatsenyuk could be a Ukrainian Hero

Foxy Yatsenyuk could be a Ukrainian Hero

I have started innumerable draft posts about Ukraine over the past few weeks, but there was little room for anything but speculation. The tensions and factors underlying the ‘Crimean Crisis’ were pretty clear to see, but the interplay was too fast, and Russia’s actions and reactions were largely inscrutable. As of this moment, I believe that the constraints that Russia is operating under are clear enough that the path to a resolution for Ukraine is emerging from the mists.

I think it is pretty clear to all that Russia has fomented a state of insecurity, first in Crimea, and now in the Eastern and Southern regions of Ukraine. It is equally obvious that the ethnically Russian ‘seperatists’ in Donetsk, Luhansk, etc. are not supported by a majority, or even a plurality of their Russian and Ukrainian speaking populace. There is the telling fact that Russia is back-pedalling furiously on their thinly veiled threats to ‘intervene’ on behalf of Russian speakers in the East. The Separatist protesters appear to have been left hanging by Russia, and Arseny Yatsenyuk has neatly disarmed them by meeting what appears to be their main demand, that Kiev cede ‘Economic Independence’ to the Region, along with taxation powers.

The Moscow Times reported that “DONETSK/LUHANSK — Ukraine’s prime minister on Friday offered to boost local powers in the regions in an effort to undercut pro-Russia separatists who have occupied official buildings in Russian-speaking cities in eastern Ukraine.”. This is a genuine offer, with Machiavellian implications. When the USSR collapsed, Ukraine’s inheritance included a huge Soviet era coal mining Industry, and a number of creaking heavy Industries based upon Soviet era products and industrial processes. The only world market for the shoddy Industrial production was Russia. There was (and is) no market for the expensive and low-grade coal mined in the Donbass, so Ukraine’s Government was faced with a stark choice. Either subsidise the East with massive energy subsidies, and State support of the coal mining sector, or face mass un-employment and economic collapse in the East. With the Presidency of Ukraine in Eastern hands, Ukraine’s national Government conceived of two measures to support the Eastern economy. The State owned Coal mines were kept on life support, despite massive ongoing losses. The State owned gas utilities fixed the price of Natural gas at 20% of the ‘market’ rates charged by their friendly Russian neighbors. yes, that’s right, Natural gas enjoyed an 80% subsidy in a Nation that could not afford hospitals, schools, and the things that actually support viable economic development.

Ukraine has been reaping the bitter harvest of politically driven subsidies ever since. There is a gaping hole in Ukraine’s budget, that cannot possibly be stopped so long as energy is so expensive to buy, and sells at such a deep discount. With subsidies in place, Ukraine consumes about 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas in a ‘normal’ year. About 20 billion cubic meters are domestically produced, and the balance is imported from Russia and Turkmenistan. With the cost of gas imported from Gazprom sitting at $0.50 per cubic meter, the effective subsidy to Ukraine’s Industry is about $8billion per annum, the subsidy to households is about $6 billion, the subsidy to Government and co-operatives is about $4 billion, and about 9% of total gas used is wasted through ‘leakage’ (presumably including un-metered gas stolen by the Oligarchs). The value of the ‘leaked’ gas is about $2.75 billion. The total costs to the Kiev Government should be on the order of $20 Billion per annum. The coal subsidies are inscrutable. Aside from direct subsidies, every lump of coal sold, every tool or machine purchased for the mines passes through the hands of well-connected ‘middlemen’ who take a piece of the action, or simply fake invoices and pocket the cash. The Ukraine signed a deal for loan guarantees from the EU in March that requires Ukraine to eliminate half the gas subsidy immediately. When you consider the costs of the subsidy, and the parlous state of Ukraine’s finances, that is no surprise.

What Yatsenyuk has offered to the separatists suddenly takes on a new light. The interim Government has to balance their books if they want to have any hope of taking advantage of the EU eliminating tariffs on Ukrainian goods. They have a huge political problem standing in their way. The only way they can avoid ongoing insolvency is if they kill the subsidies that keep the Donbass economy afloat. Under the current division of powers in Ukraine, Kiev would face accusations of deliberately undermining the East’s economy should they unilaterally cancel subsidies. I bet that Yatsenyuk couldn’t believe his luck when Russian supported separatists demanded a devolution of economic and taxation powers from the Kiev Government. It is true that the separatists are not representative of the East, but Russia has set them up on a pedestal as freedom fighters and loyal Russians. That provides abundant cover for Yatsenyuk to position Kiev as a very moderate consensus seeking regime. He can reject outright the demands for referendum on separation, and do so in the knowledge that Russian speakers who do not want separation will agree. He can accede to the demands for economic independence by exercising a neat political trick I first saw used by the Mike Harris PC Government in Ontario. Jim Flaherty prepared a wonderful gift to the city of Toronto by transferring several $Billion worth of social housing to the City Government. It looked mighty generous of him, but of course the value of an asset you cannot sell is not $billions, it is zero (or less). Toronto was obliged to take on the costs of maintaining and providing subsidized housing to tens of thousands of people, and it has been a quarter billion hole in Toronto’s budget ever since. For Ukraine, the calculus is similar. Eastern Oligarchs, and would be regional governors will look no further than the enormous opportunity for corruption presented on a platter. The populace will be mollified by the ‘gift’ of $Billions worth of coal mines, and control of local gas utilities. The fiscal fig leaf of transferred taxation powers to the region will hide the transfer of subsidies from the entire nations tax base to the region directly receiving the most subsidies. Kiev will draw a sigh of relief, and wash their hands of the expense, and responsibility for the East’s well-being.

What about Russia? By reading the papers, and world-wide media, one would believe that the ‘chess master’ in the Kremlin holds all the cards, and wants to score some kind of geopolitical ‘win’ by securing direct control of Eastern Ukraine. I beg to differ. The Kremlin is constrained by their own propaganda. Vladimir Putin had approval ratings of about 32% two months ago. In 8 short weeks, the Kremlin has asserted control over virtually all the Russian language media, and promoted Russia’s role as guarantor of Russian minorities in the former USSR. This was instrumental in winning massive approval ratings for Putin in the wake of Crimea’s annexation. The direct economic price is high, with annual subsidies to Crimea expected to top $5.5 billion per year, but you cannot make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. In addition, Russia has signaled their intention to make Ukraine pay for the Crimea by upping their gas charges by a comparable amount.  The direct cost to Russia of annexing Eastern Ukraine is an order of magnitude higher though. This is the root of Putin’s current dilemma. The Russian people expect no less than the annexation of swathes of Ukraine in support of separatists and protestors. Russia cannot possibly meet the expectations of Russian speakers in Donetsk. Russian media reported on the EU sanctions that would be imposed on Russia if Russia’s military crosses the borders. They will cripple the value of the Ruble by trashing capital flows in and out of Russia, and cause the deepest recession Russia has seen since Yeltsin was in power. Putin is waaay out on a shaky limb. His regimes survival could well depend upon a face-saving measure to step back from the morass. Yatsenyuk can hand a lifeline to him by ‘accommodating’ separatist demands for economic independence.  The painful phasing out of Ukraine`s gas subsidies can be blamed with much justice on the Gazprom  gas price hikes, rather than the EU’s loan conditions. Russia can bluster and make political demands of Ukraine, but what leverage do they really possess? The threat of military conquest? Ukraines response can effectively be ‘Do your Worst’. Either Russia will invade and be left holding the baby whilst fending off economic sanctions, or Russia will accede to a devolution of economic control and the baby will be left holding itself. Win-Win for the Interim Government and its successor in Kiev.

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Possibly the dumbest things Doug Ford ever did

Rob-Ford Now coverWhen I first saw this article in the Toronto Star, I thought maybe it was a spoof, or somebodies wishful thinking. Apparently Doug Ford has lost the DVD’s that contained ALL their contact databases from the 2010 Mayoralty election.  Mitch Wexler had been hired to manage the data, and to do some supporter profiling to help with their efforts to identify Ford supporters. According to the Star, after the election, he handed Doug Ford all the electoral data on two DVD’s.

“I made two DVDs with all of the data from the campaign — entire voters’ list with contact info, supporters, non-supporters, signs, volunteers, all voter contact records, etc. — and gave them both to Doug Ford,” said Conservative data expert Mitch Wexler.”

That is not how Doug Ford sees it. Again, quoting the Star: “Councillor Doug Ford claims the mayor’s former campaign manager, Nick Kouvalis, is refusing to turn over valuable 2010 voter database information.”

Oh My God! Is that not the DUMBEST thing you have ever heard of in Canadian politics? Firstly, the Ford Nation database is an awesome collection of detailed data. It was an impressive database before the 2010 election, but all those thousands of volunteers were busily adding more and richer detail on the Toronto electorate for a whole year in 2010. Nick Kouvalis obviously has access to all that juicy data, and he has joined the John Tory team.

There is a little known fact that comes to bear on this situation. Most Canadians think that personal information about them is protected. You would think that someone with access to a political database like this would not be legally able to just use it, or hand it over to some third party. Well, in all of Canada, (except BC), the privacy act(s) specifically exempt users of data from the provisions of the privacy act, if the data is being used for’ POLITICAL PURPOSES’. I would argue that Nick Kouvalis handing all the Fords data over to team Tory is a political use of data. Even if it isn’t totally legal, good luck proving it happened Douggie. Even if you can prove it, the damage is done.

And what’s with LOSING the freaking disks? Hello Douggie? Is there anybody in there? I have an image of the DVD’s being used as coasters on the coffee table up at the cottage. This electoral data is the most important political asset he owns. Now what are you gonna do Doug? John Tory probably knows every supporter you ever had prior to October 2010. You may (or may not) still have all those paper records from Robs 10 years as a councillor, but what about all the data from the election? What about that supporter profiling? Team Tory is gonna tear through YOUR supporters lists, and tear the heart out of your campaign before you even get started. Maybe you could sue somebody, ROFL.

And to cap it all, Doug Ford goes PUBLIC with his accusations against Kouvalis. ‘Hey World! Look at what an idiot I am!’ Yesterday I believed that Rob Ford was in a good position to win this election. Today, I doubt he has a snowballs chance. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy.

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Trudeau’s Liberals going for the Conservatives throat.

I am not a big fan of the accepted wisdom that politics happens on a left/right continuum. That creaking old paradigm does not mean much to most of the electorate. Perhaps I should be a bit more nuanced with that observation? While there are many Canadians who view themselves as ‘left’ or ‘right’ wing, there are far more Canadians who will give their electoral support based on the issue or issues that affect them personally, irrespective of ‘left’ or ‘right’ bias. According to the accepted wisdom, the Conservative Party is the party of the Right. Their base is therefore an ideologically motivated monolith, that can be counted on to vote CPC. On the ‘left’ flank of the Liberals sit the NDP. Again, the accepted wisdom is that the NDP’s  ideologically motivated ‘base’ can be relied on to vote NDP. In the ‘centre’ sit the Liberals, who alternate between left and right in a morally bankrupt dance to win power at any cost. Well I am sorry, but when your definition of what motivates people captures no more than a third of the electorate, it is time to dump it.

And dumping the paradigm seems to be what is on Trudeau’s mind nowadays. In the early days of the Liberal leadership race last year, Justin Trudeau came out publicly in support of the NEXEN takeover in the Oil patch. Shortly thereafter, Trudeau announced, (on a visit to Alberta no less) that he supported the Keystone Pipeline, but not the Northern Gateway pipeline through the Rockies. The shock value of a Liberal leadership contender reaching out to Albertans and a key CPC constituency was good for a lot of headlines, but it was also revealing inasmuch as it is the first attempt to directly target a true blue Tory constituency since the Reformers co-opted the PC’s. Since then we have seen Trudeau reaching out to libertarians by supporting Marijuana legalisation. While many would assume that legalising marijuana is anathema to all Conservatives, the fact is that there are plenty of Conservatives who will support the policy, irrespective of party lines. If you still doubt that Trudeau is aiming squarely at the Conservatives, he publicly threw down the gauntlet in his speech to the Liberal policy convention yesterday. “Conservative voters are your neighbours, not your enemies, ‘these are good people,’ Trudeau tells convention

In my opinion, this is strategically sound. Past elections have featured the Conservative Party shaping the issues, and defining the Liberals and Dippers in the public eye. The Conservatives have spent untold dollars and volunteer hours building their constituencies one issue at a time. By the time the election rolls around, the Conservatives have had another large slice of the electorate in their back pocket, leaving the Liberals desperately trying to win their supporters back. And whilst the Liberals are scrambling to stand still, the CPC unleash the hounds and pick and choose who, how, and when to attack. Whatever happens over the coming year, the Conservatives are going to have to watch their back. They will surely try to expand their appeal, and further build their constituencies, but they are going to have to balance TWO priorities. Every time they go to a podium, they are going to have to think hard about whether they are trying to win over new supporters, or circle the wagons around one of their existing ‘base’ constituencies.

If Trudeau has made the best strategic decision by targeting the CPC support issue by issue, the tactics leave something to be desired. When the CPC goes after a constituency, they go after it retail. They reach out to community groups, they leverage their paid AND earned media, and they never stop identifying individuals who are committed to supporting them on a specific issue. This is so important because it enables them to target their supporters and communicate with them directly, one on one to lock down their support as soon as the writ is dropped. Voters are invited to sign petitions, to donate, to join CPC friendly community groups, and make themselves known to the CPC by name, address, phone number, and most importantly, by email address. The benefits of this are obvious. They can counter any message that is delivered by broadcast media by narrowcasting their response directly to the constituency ‘in play’. They can do this immediately without spending any money just by clicking ‘send’ on an email blast. What is so disappointing about the Liberals failure to harvest direct contacts amongst the electorate is that it is ridiculously easy to do so. All that is needed is to ASK Canadians to sign a petition, or register as a supporter every time you present an idea publicly. When General Leslie calls for fixing military procurement, all he needs to do is invite Canadians to sign on to support his proposal, and another pile of issue specific supporters are loaded into Liberalist. Whether it is Scott Brison talking about the Conservative Deficit, or  Marc Garneau, communications are ALWAYS an opportunity to solicit actionable contact data from the electorate. Even if it is only a few hundred prospective supporters at a time, there is no reason whatsoever not to be adding hundreds of thousands of new supporters to the database every year.

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Rob Ford is in a good position to win the Mayoralty in October.

Harper-FordIf I were a betting man, I would lay pretty stiff odds in favour of Rob Ford beating his challengers in the 2014 Toronto Mayoral election. The Toronto Sun commissioned a poll by Forum, and today they released selected highlights. Like that Rob Fords approval rating has climbed from 42% on Dec.9, to 47% this week. On the important voting intentions question, Ford would win the vote of 41% or this weeks respondents, up from 33% on Dec.9.

There has been a lot of valid criticism recently of polling methodology, and the spectacular failure of recent polls to predict election outcomes. I agree that the very nature of opinion polling, and the differences between a poll or survey and the real thing, an election, make it nearly impossible to accurately forecast the effects of voter turnouts on election outcomes. His polled supporter numbers are almost enough by themselves, but  the strongest reasons I believe Ford is in a good position are precisely those things that a poll cannot readily measure.

In 2010 the Fords ran a very sophisticated ID-GOTV program right across the City of Toronto. With thousands of hard-working volunteers, they were able to canvas for support, and identify an unprecedented proportion of the electorates voting intentions. On election day, they did not drop the ball. They put their thousands of volunteers to work, and got their voters to the polls in droves. Altogether, the turnout in the 2010 election was up around 53%, as compared to 39% in the prior election. Without getting into all the gory details of the various councillor contests that were influenced by, or were an influence on the Mayoral contest, the Ford team essentially identified about 100,000 people who would not ordinarily vote in a municipal election, and got them to the polls to cast their Mayoral and Council ballots. (For those interested in those gritty details, here is a link to a turnout map by Ward.)

So there it is, my argument in a nutshell. Rob Ford won the 2010 election by motivating a large number of people who do not ordinarily vote in Municipal elections. The Ford campaign managed to identify their voters, and ran an effective GOTV to get them all to the polls on EDay. The Fords have been improving their database, and collecting ever more names and information on their supporters over the intervening 4 years. You know how Rob Ford is laughed at for handing out Fridge magnets on any and all occasions with his phone number? Well every time someone calls that number, they are identified as prospective Ford supporters, and their name goes into the ever-growing election database. I dwell on this point because public opinion polls are telling us that the bulk of these supporters have not wavered in their support for Ford despite some of the most outrageous scandals and controversies I have ever seen in Canadian politics. So that growing database is largely populated by people who are going to vote for Rob Ford if they vote for anyone. In 2010 nobody in Toronto had even remotely close to the amount of solid actionable data that the Fords had. Here we are 4 years later, and that database has been fed by robo-calling, fridge magnets, and all those telephoned and emailed expressions of support each successive scandal has unleashed. When somebody calls Rob Ford instead of the Cities service Toronto number, their personal contact data becomes Ford property. At this point in time, the Fords will have identified most of their supporters, so the re-election campaign can focus all of their resources on retaining their support, converting undecided voters, and suppressing the vote of their opponents.

Just because Rob Ford is in a very strong position, that does not mean he is certain to win. Olivia Chow has managed to establish her position as the most likely candidate to beat Rob Ford come the October vote. She will have the advantage of access to some decent data courtesy of the NDP, and many left leaning and centrist councillors. Her team will need to mine those databases heavily, and build up a new category of voter, Olivia Chow mayoralty supporters. Provided she can win over enough volunteers to avoid having to pay phone banks to ID her vote, then she will have a fighting chance to identify, and get her voters out in sufficient numbers. There is pretty obviously a good opportunity to suppress Rob Fords vote, again provided she has enough volunteers to identify all those Rob Ford supporters, and to reach them with a negative message about their chosen candidate. Lord knows there is plenty of ammunition. There ought to be one or two simple messages that will persuade much of Ford Nation to stay at home on EDay. The problem for the challenger is that (s)he will have to expend considerable resources building up his/her data. So on the one hand, any challenger has to both build their own database of supporters more or less from scratch, and run a parallel Ford vote suppression campaign with limited resources. All Ford has to do is hold onto the supporters that he has already identified, and he will have oodles of cash and volunteer hours dedicated to this one simple task.

So in conclusion, Rob Ford is likely to win the Mayoral election in October 2014. The reason is that most of his work is already done, and his supporters are a rock solid plurality of voters. If he does not win, it will be because an unprecedented number of volunteers step up to the plate for a single opponent, and enable her to run her phone banks full tilt on volunteer hours. Ideas will not matter much. It will boil down to a referendum on Rob Fords mayoralty, and the mechanical process of contacting millions of voters by phone or at their doorstep. That sucks. Politics really should be the realm of policy, and ideas, but welcome to the real world of Canadian electoral politics…

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The Ford brothers are not acceptable as elected officials at any level of government.

Buffoonery is over. Things are DEADLY serious now.

Buffoonery is over. Things are DEADLY serious now.

I have avoided the topic of the Ford brothers for the simple reason that Rob Ford was well-known as a buffoon before he was elected. Toronto voted for a buffoon, and that is what they got. ‘Let this be a lesson to us’ I told myself, chuckled and moved on. The problem is that buffoonery is the least of the troubles the Fords have inflicted on us. The Toronto Star has just published an article that reports on a Police interview with Dave Price, a Ford family friend and staffer, where he states that Anthony Smith recorded the crack video, and was murdered over it. In a separate article from CP, linked to here at National Newswatch, the gangsters who had that video were blackmailing Ford. Fords offer of $5000 and a car was not enough, they were going to meet with him and demand 150, presumably meaning $150,000.

I am bothered by the thought that mostly harmless buffoonery has brought the City of Toronto into international disrepute. I am truly sickened by the thought that Anthony Smith may have been murdered in order to provide somebody in the underworld with excellent blackmail material on Rob Ford. Personally, I am no longer willing or able to overlook the fact (as reported at length by the Globe and Mail), that Doug Ford was a drug wholesaler, with a group of sub dealers and distributors working for him in the Eighties. This is not buffoonery. It is criminality. I find myself wondering about things like giant ferris wheels on the Waterfront, and great big downtown casinos and airport expansions etc championed by the Fords. Were these things actual Ford projects, or was someone whispering in their ears; ‘I have a secret that a Casino construction contract will make go away for awhile’. Every single thing these guys have touched needs to be torn apart, and gone over with a fine toothed comb. If we are to believe allegations at the Charbonneau commission on corruption in Quebec, Ontario Construction industry is not immune to mafia influence. If the Fords have so many connections to criminals, does it not seem likely that the master criminals, the Mafia are not unaware of their past indiscretions? That calls into question every construction project that the Fords had a hand in approving. Forget about construction. Every damned thing they do as official city business becomes suspect, from Taxi and strip club licensing, to leasing vendor spaces, hot dog stands, you name it, it is now suspect.

I think that Rob Ford will probably go away now. I am pretty certain that Doug Ford will not be making his debut at Queens Park either. Murder, extortion, and drug trafficking  just do not go together with public office very well. In short, the Ford bothers are not just buffoons, they are dangerously exposed by their alleged *cough* *cough* links to criminals.

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Time for the Liberals to revive the Supporter membership category.

Liberal Supporter GraphicA little over a year ago, the Liberal Party was in the midst of a bold initiative intended to bring a lot of Canadians into the Liberal Party fold. The Supporter category of membership in the Liberal Party was conceived as an easy way to sign up a really large number of new ‘members’ by eliminating a membership fee, and conferring the right to cast a vote in the Leadership contest. The Leadership contest provided a lot of publicity for both the category, and for the Liberal Party, as well as for the actual Leadership contenders themselves.  The creation of this category implicitly acknowledged that possessing the means to communicate freely with large numbers of people who held an affinity for the Liberal Party was more important than collecting a $10 membership fee from a much smaller group of members. This acknowledgement is important, because it really strikes to the heart of the disparity between the Conservative Party, and the Liberals and Dippers in the fundraising arena. The Conservatives raise more money per donor, from a considerably larger number of donors than the other two party’s combined. So if the Liberals tried something quite innovative, and a genuine departure from past practice, so the obvious question SHOULD be: ‘So how did that work out for you?’

Over the course of the Liberal Party leadership campaign, there were a total of about 294,000 supporters signed up, a large proportion of which provided email addresses. Of those 294,000 additional new contacts, 127,000 went through the registration process and were eligible to vote. Over 100,000 of those registered to vote actually voted, so I would say that the whole exercise was a great success. I think that an influx of several hundred thousands of new names and email addresses is no mean feat, and there are continuing benefits. In the months since Justin Trudeau was elected leader of the Liberals, the Liberal Party has had access to all those new contacts, and the results have been pretty impressive. If you head over to The Pundits Guide financial contributions database, you can see from the quarterly results that not only are the Liberals raising significantly more money than last year, but they are doing it by winning over a lot more donors. In other words, new donors with first time, or smaller ongoing donations are stepping forward by the thousand. In the first quarter of 2013 there were 24,068 donors contributing M$1.70, while in 2012 there were 22,867 donors contributing M$2.33.  Q2 2013 saw M$2.96 from 38,014 donors, vs 2012 M$1.81 from 22,611 donors. Q3 2013 saw M$2,17 from 30,108 donors vs 2012 M$1.44 from 20,259 donors. The first quarter was anomalous, because of the ongoing Leadership race, but the growth in number of donors accelerated from 5% (1201 donors) in Q1, to 68% (15,403 donors) in Q2, and kept well ahead of year ago results in Q3 with an increase of  49%(9849 donors). We will have to wait until year end results are publicly posted in 2014 to see what the annual numbers are, but the quarterly numbers are painting a compelling picture of supporters opening their wallets to the Liberal Party.

So why is it that when I mention the supporter category to most Liberals, they refer to it in the past tense? It is as if they can only envision it as part of a leadership contest. Signing up lots of supporters in one short period was and is a godsend to the Liberal party bank account. Guaranteed it will produce a bumper crop of election volunteers come 2015. I should think that brighter minds than mine would be burning the midnight oil working out the details of an ongoing supporter drive. There really is nothing more fundamental to a political party’s success than the ability to communicate via email to large numbers of their supporters, so how about it?

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