Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Liberal leadership campaign rules

Leadership campaign rules and their application can help or hurt candidates.
The Liberal constitution - supplied helpfully by Sean Holman of - gives the party executive four weeks to set a date for a leadership vote after they get a resignation letter.
They have to set a date for the vote within the next six months. Assuming Gordon Campbell wrote a resignation letter today, the leadership vote would have to be held no later than June 1.
All paid-up party members get a mail-in vote if they have joined at least 41 days - say six weeks - before the date of the leadership convention.
So, if the executive set a Dec. 12 leadership vote, only the people who were already party members could vote.
But parties like leadership races because the candidates rush around signing up new party members who will support them, theoretically building the membership base. (Though instant party members tend not to stick around after the leadership vote.) A later date would give leadership candidates a chance to persuade more people to buy memberships and support them.
This is all uncharted territory. The last leadership contest, which Campbell, of course, won, was 17 years ago and used a telephone voting system the party has abandoned.
To win, a candidate needs a majority. It's not clear, to me anyway, whether that must mean a succession of mail ballots or some form of voting that lets members rank all the candidates.

Resignation brings a new set of problems

Gordon Campbell's resignation was inevitable. He lost the confidence of British Columbians and, finally, of at least some within the Liberal ranks.
But the timing was a surprise and leaves the party, government and province in a tough spot.
I expected Campbell to stick around and defend the HST in the run up to next September's referendum. Then he could leave and a new Liberal leader could declare the tax battle in the past, say lessons had been learned and pledge a fresh start.
That didn't work. Campbell faced increasing internal discontent - note Energy Minister Bill Bennett's criticism of the premier's autocratic decision-making on resource minstry restructuring - that increased when his televised address last week was a failure.
The early departure creates big problems. The Liberal party executive has six months to call a leadership convention. The latest date would be in May.
The HST referendum is set for Sept. 24. That means a new Liberal leader faces months either campaigning in favour of the HST or dodging questions about the tax. Either way, public anger about the tax and the incompetent way it was introduced would fix immediately on the new leader.
The leadership race will also be run with the tax still a live issue. That's bad news for potential candidates from within the current cabinet, like Rich Coleman, Kevin Falcon, George Abbott or Mike de Jong.
They have all defended the HST and backed the government's position that it was not possible or necessary to consult the public. They have all supported the claim the tax "wasn't on the radar" during the election campaign, even though talks on implementing it started days after the vote. They have supported, they insisted, Campbell's actions.
The same actions that so angered the public that he had to resign.
Those are problems for the Liberal party. (Although they could be eased by moving the referendum date up to the spring.)
But months of uncertainty are also bad news for the government and the province.
The government had big, if vague, plans for changes to the education system, for example. Those are stalled. The major shuffle of resource industries to speed project approvals announced last week will slow as all involved wait to see what the new leader thinks.
And work on next year's budget, to be presented in February, will move into high gear in coming months. Absent a leader, decisions on everything from health spending to tax policy will be put off.
This is all coming as the province emerges from a recession and businesses and consumer wait to see if the HST will survive the referendum (or, for that matter, whether the Liberal government will survive recall attempts).
The uncertainty will be damaging.
It's a sad end for Campbell, no matter what people think of his time in government. He rode into office with considerable goodwill in 2001 (in part because the former NDP government was so loathed). And he was re-elected twice. No one has ever challenged his work ethic or commitment to the job. His enthusiasms - for First Nations treaties, health reform, action on climate change and all those other great goals - were compelling.
But they were also short-lived. And as time went on they were overshadowed by broken promises and a sense that this was a one-man government not much interested in the views of anyone outside a like-minded inner circle. It was not just the public's views that were discounted; Liberal MLAs weren't consulted about the HST or a host of other policy directions either.
That was too bad. Leaders, unless they are careful, ended up surrounded by people who think like they do and are far more likely to say "great idea, chief" than they are to raise concerns - either their own or their constituents.
So premiers come to believe, for example, that the reason people oppose the HST is that they are just too dim to recognize the premier's wisdom.
And eventually, they stand in front of the TV cameras offering their resignations.
Footnote: The Liberals should be looking ruefully at that 15 per cent tax cut. It reduced revenue by $1.2 billion over the next two years without saving Campbell's job. That's money a new leader could have used to build quick public support, either through tax cuts or an expansion of needed services.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Tough to see economic case for tax cut

Gordon Campbell's TV speech bombed, according to the one public poll done in its aftermath. Even the 15 per cent income tax cut wasn't a runaway success.
The Ipsos Reid poll, done for Global TV, found one-third of British Columbians disapproved of the tax reduction.
That still leaves a majority - 62 per cent - in favour of the tax cut.
But the fact that one in three British Columbians didn't think the tax cut was a good idea is interesting.
The Liberals have spent a decade arguing taxes are bad. "We think you make better choices about how to spend those dollars than the government can," Campbell said last week, sticking with a familiar theme. "You all want to have critical services but you know the individual issues that you face as a family, it's better for you to choose where you want your dollars to go."
It's just political talk, crafted to play well on TV. But Campbell did appear to suggest that if you want "critical services" you should pay for them yourself, rather than expect the government to collect taxes and ensure that health and education, for example, are available for everyone.
It's tough to draw too many conclusions from the poll. It could be that the one-third of British Columbians who think the tax cut is a bad idea just dislike Campbell so much that anything he proposed would be tainted.
Or they could be the people who won't benefit from the tax cut. About 40 per cent of British Columbians don't earn tp pay provincial income tax. For someone with $20,000 income, the tax cut is worth a little over $1 a week. (They will benefit from the low-income HST rebate of up to $230 a year.)
But it could also be that man people don't think a tax cut is a good idea when the government is running a deficit. Paying for the tax reduction means borrowing money our kids will have to pay back or cutting more services.
It is a puzzling bit of public policy. Campbell has said deficits are an abomination, but he plunged the province deeper in debt - the tax cut will reduce revenues by $568 million next year, more the year after.
And he once again justified the snap imposition of the HST by saying B.C. desperately needed the $1.6 billion the federal government was offering as an inducement.
But the government is booking $580 million of that payment next year - almost exactly the revenue lost because of the tax cut. The HST incentive payment doesn't look quite so essential as a result.
The tax cut also opens the door to an unending litany of what-ifs. The government is moving people with developmental disabilities out of group homes and programs that have been part of their lives for years to save $22 million. That wouldn't be necessary with the tax cut.
In September, Health Minister Kevin Falcon announced an extra $23 million in health funding that would help 33,000 patients get speedier treatment. On that basis, the money the government gave up could have helped hundreds of thousands of people to get better access to needed health care.
Campbell made a brief reference to the economic benefits. The theory is that people will spend the money they get as a result of the tax cuts (and that government won't cut its spending because of the reduced revenue).
Some of that spending will result in jobs and economic growth in the province. The cuts will pay for themselves
But the business case is weak. A Central 1 Credit Union "preliminary impact assessment" estimated the 15 per cemt cut would increase economic growth from 2.4 per cent to 2.5 per cent next year.
That, according to the budget documents, translates into about $20 million in additional government revenue, compared to the $568 million given up as a result of the tax cut.
Even the 62 per cent who welcome the tax cut must wonder about the decision-making process.
Footnote: The poll found 11 per cent of British Columbians had an improved opinion of Campbell after the speech; 43 per cent thought worse of him. Thirteen per cent said they were more likely to vote Liberal; almost half - 46 per cent - said they were less likely to vote for the Liberals.
So who thought it would be a good idea to deliver that speech on television?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

About those tankers.....

"Drunken captain of ship seized in Strait gets short prison term

By Chris Tucker/Peninsula Daily News

TACOMA -- Skippering a 590-foot freighter in the Strait of Juan de Fuca while legally drunk gets you 14 days in prison, six months of supervised release and a six-month ban from U.S. waters.... (full story below)."

I note this is not some tramp freighter. The ship is almost two football fields long and STX, the owner, is a giant shipbuilding and transportation corporation which operates oil tankers. (And note the Coho in the background in this image of the ship in Port Angeles.)

The statement from the U.S. Attorney's officer is here.

It says:

"In asking for a significant sentence, the government noted the potential for disaster with a drunk captain aboard a 20,763 gross tons freighter. 'The consequences of an accident that may have occurred due to the defendants intoxication could have been catastrophic. The defendant’s intended journey through the Straits of Juan de Fuca and down the Puget Sound to Olympia covered over 205 miles through areas characterized by narrow channels and strong currents. More importantly, the defendant’s intended track crossed no less than six Washington State Ferry routes, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and many areas of high commercial shipping and recreational boating activity. The defendant’s ship, carrying large quantities of fuel oil posed further risk to the marine environment.'"

Which does not mean tankers can't be safe; but it is a reminder that industry claims that nothing could go wrong are false.

Drunken captain of ship seized in Strait gets short prison term

By Chris Tucker/Peninsula Daily News

TACOMA -- Skippering a 590-foot freighter in the Strait of Juan de Fuca while legally drunk gets you 14 days in prison, six months of supervised release and a six-month ban from U.S. waters.

That essentially was the sentence handed down Monday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to Korean national Seong Ug Sin, who was arrested by a Coast Guard inspection team in the Strait last April 14.

U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Richard Creatura, who imposed the sentence, heard evidence earlier this month that Sin, who resisted the inspection team's boarding of the STX Daisy he was commanding, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.108 percent, more than twice the legal limit.

No matter who is at the ship's helm, U.S. law requires captains to have a blood-alcohol level of less than 0.04 percent when traversing U.S. waters.

Once the boarding team took charge of the ship, it was ordered to Port Angeles Harbor, where it anchored for several days until another captain arrived to take it to Olympia.

According to trial testimony, the Coast Guard inspection team had difficulty boarding the STX Daisy from a small inflatable boat because Sin refused to follow their instructions.

"Once on board, Capt. Sin continued to have difficulty providing the records required, and a review determined he had no usable charts of Puget Sound," according to a statement Monday from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle.

"A search of the ship determined that significant quantities of Korean whisky had been consumed by SIN and one other officer."

Prosecutors noted during the trial that the STX Daisy's intended route of 205 miles was through Admiralty Inlet and south on Puget Sound to Olympia to pick up a cargo of logs.

"More importantly, the defendant's intended track crossed no less than six Washington State Ferry routes, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and many areas of high commercial shipping and recreational boating activity," Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew Thomas and David Reese Jennings wrote in their sentencing memo to Creatura.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard and was prosecuted by Thomas and Jennings along with Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Zlomek, a Coast Guard lieutenant commander.

Sin faced a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.