Harper's got us just where he wants us - Macleans.ca
 

Harper’s got us just where he wants us

WELLS: The Prime Minister likes it when people assume that his grip on power hangs by a thread


 

ANDREW VAUGHAN/CP

By the end of July, the uproar in the press gallery over the Harper government’s plan to scrap the mandatory long-form census had reached the point where it was time to perform the premature autopsies.

“Jarred into wakefulness by the sound of summer gunfire,” James Travers wrote in the Toronto Star, “Canadians are confronted by the spectacle of a wounded Prime Minister leading a gang that can’t shoot straight.”

“The upshot,” Lawrence Martin added in the Globe, “has been no change in the government’s image and zero improvement in its popularity numbers. Unable to score through these times, Tories must be wondering whether they can ever score.”

L. Ian MacDonald in the Montreal Gazette: “Having lost the argument, the government should be looking for a way out, for some kind of Canadian compromise.”

Rob Granatstein in the Toronto Sun: “It was senseless to go there. All it does is whack the PM’s credibility with an idiot stick.”

The provincial premiers were reported to be looking for a compromise. The list of organizations who worried that the reliability of the census would be ruined if the government made participation voluntary grew steadily longer.

What everyone may have missed was that the premiers could not find anyone to discuss a compromise with, except for one another. The federal government, which runs the census, had no intention of dropping its plan. And as long as Stephen Harper remains Prime Minister, he needs nobody else’s help to make this change.

So is the Prime Minister wounded? I think if you ask him he’ll say no. Can he shoot straight? He set out to junk the obligatory long-form census. He seems likely to get that done. That’s pretty straight. So the Tories are having little trouble scoring through these times and they’re reasonably assured of scoring into the future.

Please don’t take any of this as an endorsement of Harper’s move. I’m in the tank with the Ottawa beltway lamestream consensus on this one. Unmooring the census from its basis in statistical reliability is a wicked thing to do because it takes away one of the few tools we have for measuring the effectiveness of the things governments do.

If you want government action to have any relation to society’s real needs, you need to measure the society’s characteristics accurately every now and then. If you want the evaluation of government action to be a public good, available to us all, you need publicly available data of a high order, so that anyone with a decent grasp of statistics can measure results against goals.

The Harper government is moving in the other direction. It will spend more money to send more of these long-form questionnaires to more people, to produce a survey with a larger sampling error so more billions of dollars can be misallocated, and citizens will have fewer independent benchmarks against which to judge any of this. If that’s a victory for limited government and the rights of the little guy, then I’m Tony Clement.

But it represents at least two other kinds of victory. First, it marks a kind of rhetorical advance: at least there’s a debate going on in this country now about the proper limits of government interference in citizens’ ordinary lives. And sure enough, the Harper government soon found it wasn’t short of allies among observers who fancy themselves proper libertarians. Terence Corcoran and George Jonas in the National Post discovered a long-standing animus against jackboot census-takers and their meddling ways.

This is the way it often works with governments in power: when they do something unexpected and even a bit flaky, they can usually create a constituency for change where none existed. The influence of the bully pulpit is real whether it is skilfully used or not.

Harper’s other win is a reaffirmation of a central principle of his time in government: while he is Prime Minister he can do pretty much what he wants. This is obvious to everyone who doesn’t work in Ottawa. Almost no issue, by itself, turns the mood of an electorate on a dime. When Canadians have chosen to turf out governments—in 1984, 1993, 2006—it was because they were convulsively sick of incumbent parties that had worn out their welcome irredeemably. The country just isn’t there with this government.

You read a lot about how there’s “zero improvement” in Harper’s popularity and not a lot about how it also resists collapse. Support for the Conservatives is stable and sturdy. Harper is not frittering away his time, although plenty of writers prefer to believe he is. No: he is chipping away at the foundations of the idea of government the Liberals built over decades. That’s why the census debate was so emotional. Everyone, Harper’s allies as much as his opponents, knows he’ll follow this sudden move with many more.

The assumption behind so much of our political chatter is that Harper’s grip on power hangs by a thread. He likes that assumption. It allows him to keep changing the country while everyone waits for him to fall.


 

Harper’s got us just where he wants us

  1. Nothing in there that I can really disagree with. I agree with you that unless Harper's Conservatives take a really big popularity hit in the polls – and this government is very poll-sensitive – his damage to the Census will only be undone by either a opposition private members bill reinstating the mandatory longform, or another more daring legislative manoeuvrer.. or an election removing the Cons. from power and the new government reinstating it.

    That said, as someone who openly detests this move and this government, I'm heartened by the new Ekos poll this morning. The Cons have dropped into a virtual tie with the Liberals, and the census issue has some resonance in helping to have caused that.

    (Also pleased/amused to see that Conservative MP Bruce Stanton of Simcoe North candidly admitting more calls to his constituency office are opposed to the Census move then for the government's actions).

    • Could you please explain why do you "detest this move" (of making the return of the long form non-forced, I assume)?

      • "If you want government action to have any relation to society's real needs, you need to measure the society's characteristics accurately every now and then. If you want the evaluation of government action to be a public good, available to us all, you need publicly available data of a high order, so that anyone with a decent grasp of statistics can measure results against goals.

        The Harper government is moving in the other direction. It will spend more money to send more of these long-form questionnaires to more people, to produce a survey with a larger sampling error so more billions of dollars can be misallocated, and citizens will have fewer independent benchmarks against which to judge any of this."

        – Paul Wells, August 5, 2010

        • > "If you want government action to have any relation to society's real needs, you need to measure …"

          It sounds very much as coming from a proponent of centralized planning. And we all know what is the success record of centrally planned societies, do we not?

          > "It will spend more money to send more of these long-form questionnaires to more people, to produce a survey with a larger sampling error …"

          Could we please review the actual questions that were on the last long form and see how well were they formulated and what benchmarks were they supposed to measure? If they were not sound, any sampling error would not matter, would it?

          • "It sounds very much as coming from a proponent of centralized planning."

            Been to Shanghai recently?

          • Good grief, it's another "If they don't know what they're doing, they won't do it!" idiot.

            When, ever.. and I mean ever.. has government not knowing what it was doing stopped it from doing something?

            So because you're such a kneejerk "government sucks" type person you're in favor of making sure that the government sucks more and that we can't even call them on it? Jesus. Is your stupidity congenital or do you work at it?

        • It's no substitute for manage by walk around. The people at the centre seem to assume that taking the pulse in Ottawa is the real world. Regardless of polls, real changes will only take place when the people out in the boondocks let Ottawa know they have had a bellyfull of political bull turds. That is lijke a ground swell, not in instant answer when the pollster phones. How many people just hang up? How many people rip of a response without thinking? Somoe polls are very good depending on the science of question structure, polling method and sampling criteria. But I think the best guiide is what Iggy is probably doing -taking the pulse by listening to the locals. Grass roots stuff.

    • This government is poll sensitive ? Anything to back that up ?

      Most governments are but you mentioning seems to me like you're suggesting this government is poll sensitive more so than usual.

      In fact the evidence seems to suggest otherwise. Harper has taken big dips many times and he just keeps on truckin'.

      Cats away!

      • Harper and his team are obsessed with polls and use them obsessively in preparing their political strategy. This is well-documented and you might want to start off with Wells' book "Right Side Up" if you need evidence. In particular they use them to identify "wedge issues" that will cause problems for the opposition parties.

        The census reaction might have surprised Harper but the fact that he is being so stubborn suggests that his internal polling reveals the damage is containable.

        • Harper and his team are obsessed with polls and use them obsessively in preparing their political strategy.

          So how do people dare suggest, constantly, that they are unCanadian, American plants, ideological socons out of touch with the nation they presume to govern? I'm constantly surprised at how people use the "ideological nutbars who want to revolutionize the country against its will" and "political opportunists with no principles" criticisms as if they weren't in direct contradiction to one another.

          • "I'm constantly surprised at how people use the "ideological nutbars who want to revolutionize the country against its will" and "political opportunists with no principles" criticisms as if they weren't in direct contradiction to one another. "

            Exactly. Bingo.

          • How many people, specific people, make both arguments? People can believe one hypothesis without believing the other.

          • Also, any government at any level can play both ideologue and populist at the same time.

            Most know this government is more ideologue anyways : )

          • The two aren't mutually exclusive. They will back off their ideological nutbarism just long enough to avoid getting Canadians attention and sinking in the polls.

          • Well then you can relax, because it's really not that big of a deal. Your argument, in its most coherent form, boils down to "sometimes they listen to Canadians through extensive reliance on polling, focus groups, and other measures used to determine what Canadians want, and sometimes they make decisions based on principle or ideology even if the majority wouldn't support such a decision", which describes pretty much every Canadian politician ever.

            Yes, but wait until they get a majority, then all bets will be off and we'll edge closer and closer to fascism, you brilliantly retort. Abortion outlawed, medicare abolished, women barred from Parliament, environment destroyed, puppies murdered, (insert favourite bugaboo here). Because Harper wants to make sure that, come the election after that, not only is he not a disgraced and loathed former Prime Minister, but that the entire party is decimated a la 1993, such that the Liberals will steamroll their way back into being the natural governing party, immediately reversing all of Harper's efforts to date. Yes, that is his plan.

          • ..people use the "ideological nutbars who want to revolutionize the country against its will" and "political opportunists with no principles"… as if they weren't in direct contradiction…

            It's an apparent contradiction that has been many times embodied by successful politicians. Worked for Lenin. And Nixon. And Tommy Douglas, actually—when you think of the compromises he needed to make in order to govern Saskatchewan. There's no fatal contradiction here.

            Not that I'm saying that Harper is an ideologically-driven opportunist (well, actually, I am, but I just don't have the time today for a forty-comment thread on the subject: just agree with me, and let's get it over with!).

        • Good try but "poll sensitive" in this context seemed to mean after a decision is made and polling goes south that Harper would revisit an issue or backtrack.

          He truly never does.

          I completely agree they look at polls BEFORE they draft a policy. Nobody knows for sure yet if anybody polled the census changes yet though.

          Mice day.

          • No. Not ever. Because that whole Canadian anthem thing didn't happen. Nor, for that matter, did the budget of no stimulus.

            Oh wait.. you're wrong.. as usual.

          • And Harper's climb-down on the desire to see an indefinite Canadian commitment to Afghanistan had nothing to do with south-going polls…

          • You dare to mention the flipflops of the Fearless Leader?

      • Paul's stating "This is the way it often works with governments in power: when they do something unexpected and even a bit flaky, they can usually create a constituency for change where none existed. The influence of the bully pulpit is real whether it is skilfully used or not."

        In power, or not in power, "the influence of the bully pulpit" is used to precipitate ridiculous movements like the Tea Parties in the US, where it seems right-wing political groups play on the ignorance of some of the populace to incite anger over government involvement in their lives. Yeah, I agree with the "bit flakey part".

        Meanwhile, those who are a bit more informed on the longer term effect of what Harper's government is doing are finally influencing the polls.

        Keep it up everyone! We don't need Republican-Style government here in Canada! We are different and proud of it!

        • I agree – we don't need a Republican-Style government here in Canada! Prime Monster Harper with his Canadian Republican / Reform Alliance Party is trying his best to turn Canada into the next U.S. State.

    • Although, of course, the Conservative government has ignored Parliamentary bills before…

  2. Wells has accurately assessed the situation.

    Ignatieff is on his summer tour and other than Aaron Wherry he is receiving scant coverage.

    Harper continues to be the one chosen by the majority (in polls) of Canadians. In fact if Ignatieff believes they are really tied he should grab the opportunity and vote non confidence. Oh, I forgot he needs the other two parties to support him. That's going to happen. Right.

    If the anti Harper crowd on this board and in the rest of the country think that Canadians are going to turf out a government because he stopped threatening to jail them for not completing a form or proroguing parliament for an extra 25 days they are in for a rude awakening.

    Who knows what is driving the polling results of Ekos but I can tell you when an election is called there will only be two people who can be prime minister and Canadians knowing the need for a majority government will side with the incumbent who has led the country through the recession and has managed the country well. The other guy will get his broken down bus ride back to Harvard.

    • Am I the only one who didn't have the box where I was supposed to mark 'majority government' on my last ballot?

      • The Conservatives get a special ballot just for them with a box marked "fantasyland".

      • That argument would always drive me nuts. When columnists would routinely talk about the Canadian public "refusing to give the CPCs a majority", or other similar formulations, as if all of Canada got together in a big townhall meeting and said "well, I think we'd all agree that we're still not sure about this Harper guy, not sure if we can trust him, or if he's likable enough, so we should just keep it to a minority government, ok everyone? Good, it's unanimous, a minority CPC government it is. So, Bob, come election day, you vote for the CPC, Wendy you can vote Green…"

        • On a related point, my butthead alarm usually goes off as soon as someone says or writes "Canadians think ____", "Canadians don't want ______", as though we're some uniform entity like the Borg from Star Trek.

        • Agreed. I would add strategic voting to that list. While I'm sure some folks who'd normally vote one way, may vote another in an 'anyone but…' scenario, I don't think it's occuring at the level necessary to start swinging elections from one side to another.

        • You know Olaf, if you weren't such a contrarian we might just invite you to the meeting.

    • How is never cracking the 40% mark "a majority (in polls) of Canadians"? Surely you meant "chosen by the largest minority."

      • The word you are both looking for, I believe, is plurality.

    • Agreed. This and Wells assessment are accurate. Only one party can end the string of minority governments and that is the current Conservative governing party. It is time for a majority and Canadians will want to give Harper a chance and the Conservative Party a chance to bring about more change for the better. The Conservatives have done a good job managing the economy and bringing us through the recession. They deserve a chance and the Canadians that support them deserve the chance to get some of their issues moved forward.

      It is absurd to think that Canadians when they are paying attention or going to object to their government limiting its powers and not threatening to put its citizens in jail for failing to fill out a bureaucratic form about useless social information. We need a majority Conservative government to make those tough decisions that socialist won't make. Decisions to boost our productivity and build our infrastructure, economy and trading relationships.

      Only a Conservative government will do these things.

      • "It is absurd to think that Canadians when they are paying attention or going to object to their government limiting its powers and not threatening to put its citizens in jail for failing to fill out a bureaucratic form about useless social information."
        ————————-

        It's only useless if you're a dunce; but I can see how you might have made that mistake.

      • "We need a majority Conservative government to make those tough decisions that socialist won't make"

        Yeah take the first train to fantasyland Joe.

        "Only a Conservative government will do these things."

        Meh, whatever. I think Canadian history has proven that theory wrong.

      • Joe Canuk says, "It is absurd to think that Canadians when they are paying attention or going to object to their government limiting its powers and not threatening to put its citizens in jail for failing to fill out a bureaucratic form about useless social information."

        The Canada West Foundation and the C. D. Howe Institute, both neo con group don't think it is absurd!

    • "If the anti Harper crowd on this board and in the rest of the country think that Canadians are going to turf out a government because he stopped threatening to jail them for not completing a form or proroguing parliament for an extra 25 days they are in for a rude awakening."
      ———————

      You're right in a sense hollinm. Voters won't turf Harper for that per se. But they MAY turf him for:

      – being an arrogant jacka## who tries to force his own agenda onto Canadians and doesn't listen to anyone else
      – preferring ideology to evidence
      – being anti-democratic and disrespectful/hostile/aggressive towards institutions that he perceives as getting in his way

      So, no, the census issue by itself won't kill him but if it's tied into a larger narrative then it might be one more nail in the coffin. Is it the last nail? Probably not but he might want to start being a little more careful in how much contempt he shows for those who disagree with him.

      • Anon Liberal, 58 mins ago: "Harper and his team are obsessed with polls and use them obsessively in preparing their political strategy."

        Anon Liberal, 52 mins ago: "(Harper is) an arrogant jacka## who tries to force his own agenda onto Canadians and doesn't listen to anyone else "

        Can one of you pick a different name, so we can keep you straight?

        • Olaf, I think what Anon Liberal is really trying to say is Harper Is Evil. The reason why Harper Is Evil does not really matter. Even if reasons given appear to contradict one another.

    • Plurality. You meant plurality when you wrote "Harper continues to be the one chosen by the majority of Canadians".

    • 29% is a "majority" now? I thought things were bad when 40% created a "majority", boy was I wrong!

      Conservatives are a funny bunch. By "manage the country well" they mean rack up record deficits. By "majority" they mean "minority", by "restraint" they mean fake lakes and jails for imaginary criminals, and of course by "the economy is too fragile for an election" they mean the same thing they meant by the fixed election date law: it's not a great time for us right now. Check back next month.

    • The statement that Harper is chosen by the majority of Canadians in polls is an absolute FALSEHOOD. More people prefer Harper than any other leader, but most Canadians prefer another leader. Don't confuse Harper's ability to hold onto his loyal minions with the support of the majority of Canadians. The vast majority of Canadians, around 70%, do NOT support Harper or his party.

      • So you're saying the attack ad was right?

        • The 'standby' production quality seems straight out of the current Liberal war room.

  3. You've written variations of this column before, but it certainly gets more true each time.

  4. Reading Wells is like watching Ground Hog Day. Minus the census specifics, this is the same column he's been writing for years. (I'm just waiting for Coyne's latest on reopening the abortion debate; he does that one every three months).

    • Is that a critique, or an observation? Just wondering.

    • The reason Wells can keep writing this similar theme is because this similar theme EXISTS and very few people ever write about it. In today's Globe and Mail, Jane Taber writes about Harper's poll numbers, the potential for a razor thin minority, yada yada. Same garbage as every week. Yet, oddly enough, Harper remains in power with 144 seats. Every summer his poll numbers go down to 30, yet miraculously he bounces back in the fall and continues to be in power.

      The theme of Wells' writing is that despite the protests of the Liberals and the Press Gallery Pundits, Harper remains IN POWER with very little threat of that power being removed. We can talk about "what ifs" and Jane Taber can write about the Green Party winning 2 seats in a pretend election today, but reality is that nobody has moved the yard stick away from Harper's favor. Wells is just making an observation that after 5 years, nobody has moved Harper.

      Do you think his assessment is wrong BigCityLib? I've heard you complain about Wells before, do you want to offer a different theory?

      • Riley, I wouldn't give a second thought to what Jane Taber has to say, that's her wishful thinking!

        Wells is right, it might sound like dejavu, but polls will change in the fall.

      • Riley says, "Yet, oddly enough, Harper remains in power with 144 seats. Every summer his poll numbers go down to 30, yet miraculously he bounces back in the fall and continues to be in power. "

        It's not odd at all! Many former Progressive Conservative voters who opposed both the Canadian Alliance and the Reform Parties now vote for the Conservatives because they don't understand that the Canadian Alliance / Reform Parties and in fact the Conzservative Party today.

    • I'm thinking a new book may be in the offing.

    • Reading Wells is like watching Ground Hog Day.

      "(Paul Wells) carries (his columns) with his uniquely frittery nonchalance and makes the (story of Stephen Harper) a comic time warp anyone should be happy to get stuck in." – Richard Corlis, Time Magazine.

      "But (Wells)… comes up with so many inspired variations on the (general theme)… that we never grow bored." – Hal Hinson, Washington Post.

      "Considering that none of the characters is fresh or interesting, it's a commendable achievement that the quality of the storytelling alone keeps (Stephen Harper's antics) watchable and likable. " – Jonathan Rosenbaum, The Chicago Reader.

      "(Mr. Wells) is back in top form with a clever, varied role that draws upon the full range of his talents. " – Janet Maslin, The New York Times.

  5. Given the very real problems that Harper and his crew are ignoring while they attempt to rebuild Canada in their own image, I can't help but think that Harper's so-called "victories" are hollow ones.

    It's like a family squabbling over what colour the living room carpet should be, while ignoring that the house is on fire.

    • What problems are they ignoring Out There? And how exactly is the "house on fire"? Care to elaborate? Because as far as I can tell, our country's economy has regained almost all of the jobs it lost, we're outpacing the rest of the G8, we've poured money into infrastructure including waste-water treatment for major cities, our social programs have never had such high funding, and we've got absolutely no threat of national unity. So economically, socially, and structurally we're doing pretty fine. Hardly on fire.

      I've voted for the NDP, Cons and Liberals in the past. I'd tend to support the Cons now. But if the Libs or NDP wanted to get my vote, they should be talking about real issues and not just arguing that the house is on fire or that Harper is evil and trying to ruin us all. I'm a centrist person who could be swayed, but not by that argument.

      • "as far as I can tell… " How can you tell these things? Are your beliefs based on StatsCan information or just conservative gut-feelings?

        • StatsCan and the Department of Finance. Feel free to look it up for yourself or provide information which counters my argument.

      • "and we've got absolutely no threat of national unity."

        Well, I agree that the wedge issue politics practiced by Harper and his crew have been successful up to this point, but I don't know, I've gotten a small inkling that national unity may break out soon. At least, I get the sense that people who like national unity are pushing back just a bit.

      • Since you asked me to elaborate:

        – The Conservatives are doing nothing about the environment. I strongly suspect that they don't believe that humans can affect the climate.

        – They are spending money they don't have without any idea of how they are going to rebalance the budget (except for a certain naive hope that the economy will grow back into prosperity).

        – Most of the money that they have "poured into infrastructure" has mostly been spent on things that Conservative MPs can have their pictures taken in front of.

        It occurs to me that the reason why Harper seems to be such an effective strategist is because that's what he spends all of his time doing. Actual governing ranks far down his list of priorities.

        • //- The Conservatives are doing nothing about the environment. I strongly suspect that they don't believe that humans can affect the climate.//

          This is absolutely wrong. Harper has implemented one policy that will result in more eventual greenhouse gas reductions than Chretien, Martin, and Obama combined. Harper has set a natural gas standard for any new electrical power plant in Canada. Most of Canada's coal generating stations are coming to the end of their lifecycles over the next 20 years. Imposing a natural gas standard means that Canada will have real and meaningful greenhouse gas emissions over the next twenty to thirty years. It means Canada will likely be amongst the greenest electricity generation system in the world in 30 years.

  6. 'It allows him to keep changing the country while everyone waits for him to fall.'

    Or the country has changed, and Harper is infront of the parade while the Libs cling to the status quo.

    • You're right, the country has changed, it's become less cohesive, its residents more spiteful and self-centred, and its attitude toward leadership – political, scientific, humanitarian, environmental – increasingly cynical and complacent.

      What a great charge for Harper to be leading.

      • > it's become less cohesive, its residents more spiteful and self-centred, and its attitude toward leadership – political,
        > scientific, humanitarian, environmental – increasingly cynical and complacent.

        How true! A fine Chretien and Martin's legacy.

        • Grammar: It's not just for breakfast anymore.

          • LynnTO; you forgot "stupider". The country is getting stupider as a direct result of the Harper government's actions.

        • Which Harper has turned into his own. Made in nastier, more arrogant and ignorant.

          Thanks for the contribution Predneril!

      • Absolutely, and some writers are more excited and drool over tactic than what's happening to the country.

      • "You're right, the country has changed, it's become less cohesive, its residents more spiteful and self-centred, and its attitude toward leadership – political, scientific, humanitarian, environmental – increasingly cynical and complacent. "

        So Lynn, have you got polling data or other hard statistical or research-based evidence to back this assertion up?

        And Holly, do you have any similar data or evidence to back up your assertion that our country is becoming stupider?

          • Then there is the man-boy MacKay, who likes to pretend he's a soldier:

            "…Again, the MacKay invocation of "unidentified" is nothing but an attempt at fear mongering and a further attempt to paint himself as a diligent and concerned warrior. They weren't and he ain't…"
            http://thegallopingbeaver.blogspot.com/2010/08/ma

          • Holly, you provided links to blog posts which argue that recent actions by the Canadian GOVERNMENT are stupid. That's a bit different from saying that the entire country is, or is becoming, stupid or more stupid. I took your original comment to mean that you think the country as a whole is becoming more stupid. I suppose if you equate the government with the country, then I can see what you mean.

            Otherwise, you and Lynn still haven't offered up a shred of actual evidence for your assertions.

        • I believe Lynn and Holly are basing their analyses on the many unreported cases of spite, self-centredness, cynicism, and complacency.

          • My gut says the numbers are rising.

          • So you have now abandoned the fact and evidence-based community and have joined the faith-based community. Fascinating.

          • Satire is just whooshing over your head.

          • Pot meet kettle.

          • Isn't the use of "Fascinating" a quasi-trademarked closer on this site?

          • I actually stole its use as a "closer" from Spock in Star Trek.

          • Ahhh yes, Spock, the dispassionate one, the detached observer. ;-)

            I was (of course) thinking of someone less detached and, seemingly, somewhat more passionate and almost as intelligent.

          • Great, so does that means Holly and Lynn are as vapid and mendacious as Stockwell Day, but just playing for the other team?

          • I have no specific data on that question, but, given the fact that the vapidity and mendaciousness you interrogatively reference remain officially unreported, I would have to say that, yes, they are almost certainly (though not verifiably) in effect.

          • Please! Vapid and mendacious but fabulously witty!

          • Unlike Stockwell Day, I presume.

          • Actually, he had a witty response to Rick Mercer's campaign to make him change his name to Doris. He said "Que sera sera."

            His latest effusion is uproariously funny, but probably not intentionally so:

            "…"When I say that our tax plan is regarded as the most competitive in the G7 countries and I ask people that, hardly any of them are aware," Day said.

            "Those are called talking points and we believe they're important," the minister added.

            "We send that stuff out all the time whether it's talking points, speeches, whatever, we're communicating it daily. If you've got suggestions on how we could do it better, we'd certainly be open to that."…"
            http://ca.news.yahoo.com/s/capress/100805/nationa

          • When I say that our tax plan is regarded as the most competitive in the G7….

            Um, Stock, dear, it's called the "G8" now, and has been for over a decade. Do try to keep up…

      • Here's examples Lynn,
        Own the Podium & new found Pride in our Military,
        Harper didn't change Canadians,
        he unleashed what was always there.

        • Let's see. Own the Podium: started under Paul Martin's government.
          Canadian action in Afghanistan: started under Chretien.

          Who unleashed what?

        • Own the Podium was not Harper's idea – it was Paul Martin's.
          Pride in our Military – I think Canadians have always had pride in the military – Harper hides behind the military.

        • Ohh!!!!! Double Burn on Wilson!

        • I don't know a single Canadian who is any more or less proud of the military because of Stephen Harper.

          Not one.

      • Omnibus et dubitandum.

    • The main thing that changed is that the two right wing parties merged and another party (the Greens) has nudged itself to the left of the Cons (and the Liberals). That's the most important dynamic and not much of significance is going to happen until that changes again.

  7. "Almost no issue, by itself, turns the mood of an electorate on a dime. When Canadians have chosen to turf out governments—in 1984, 1993, 2006—it was because they were convulsively sick of incumbent parties that had worn out their welcome irredeemably. The country just isn't there with this government."

    Not yet, but we're inching closer.

    • I think we are there. The problem is that those who are "convulsively sick" of this government are spreading their votes almost evenly four ways.

      • I'm sorry, I disagree with you and agree with Wells. I have nothing to go on but my political instincts, but I just don't have that old 'sea change' feeling yet. But the tide is rising.

        • Ok but your "sea of change" still needs to get behind one party to remove Harper. One party, not four.

          Which party will that be?

          • Based on the Ekos poll, my sense is that the biggest beneficiaries may well be the NDP and the Bloc, although their actual numbers didn't move much. But the thing is, with both the Tory and Liberal numbers dropping, that puts the NDP and the Bloc both in a better position to be minority govt kingmakers. Which of course is good news for those who lean left, bad news for those who lean right.

          • Give me a break…

          • Haha, good point.

          • The Liberals, obviously, as neither the NDP nor the Bloc ever have a hope of governing at the federal level.

          • That's some optimism you have there…

          • So I guess unless they cheer for the Tories you answer their response with your personal bias? Puleease!

          • Jon Pertwee says, "So I guess unless they cheer for the Tories you answer their response with your personal bias? "

            Jon, the Tories are the Progressive Conservative Party of John Diefenbaker, Robert Stanfield and Joe Clarke. The ciurrent Conservatives are not "Tories".

      • Exactly.

      • I don't accept as obvious that that is the case. The BQ vote pre-exists this government and will survive it. Much of the Liberal and NDP vote has always been, and will always be, mutually exclusive. There are large parts of both electorates that would vote Conservative before voting for the other "left" party. The Green vote is nowhere near as large as any of the parties that actually have seats, and green vote intention in polls is at least 2/3 fictitious.

    • I continue to cling to the expectation that Canadians will wake up one day and realize they're being had by the Harper regime, and that what they've been indifferent to for the past 4 years has suddenly become intolerable.

      • I think it's not so much a matter of indifference as a matter of tolerance, which one day will run out. Then the electoral change will come.

      • Yeah but we are still in a country with a "first past the post" voting system, yes? Even if this realization (and I still say that it has already happened – Harper only has 30% of the population behind him) eventually takes place, who will they vote for instead of Harper?

        • Ignatieff.

          • I actually hope you are right though I really don't like him. I'd take 20 Ignatieff over Harper. I'm not sure that the people who have parked their vote with the Greens, Bloc and NDP are on the same page.

          • People on the centre-left who don't vote for Ignatieff are likely not to vote for him because he has failed to show how a Liberal government would be significantly different from the Conservatives.

            And thats a good thing.

  8. Well, there's one thing Harper has achieved. He has convinced everyone in Ottawa that, after 4 years in power and over a decade in national politics, achieving 30-35% in the polls guarantees wonder and respect from the Hill scribes.

    I remember reading the same kind of awe-inspiring columns about the famous Paul Martin juggernaut. And I look forward to reading Inkless a few months from now, if Harper loses, on how the writing was always on the wall for Harper'd downfall.

    The moral of the story: being close to all the political action and having access to all the sources doesn't make you any more insightful or accurate than the thousands of long-distance bloggers and anonymous commenters out there.

    • Did I write those awe-inspiring columns about the famous Paul Martin juggernaut?

      • Who remembers now?

      • The words "butt scrum" are permanently seared into my brain. I may sue.

      • No, Inkless. If memory serves, you never were a Paul Martin fan, but many of your colleagues sure were. One, in fact, wrote a book about the awesome juggernautness of the Paul Martin machine.

      • I seem to remember a stemwinder of a column in the 2004 campaign about how Martin's mark in history was going to be a crater… (I loved that column.)

        So maybe readers could go with "Paul Wells: prematurely confident in Harper"…

        • Or as Holly or Emily would put it, "Paul Wells: Conbot."

    • Actually, Anon, I'm not sure anyone out there believes that "the polls guarantees wonder and respect from the Hill scribes".

      I might be crazy, but I happen to think that it's because he won the last election and is currently PM. And that was with not much less of the popular vote than what some previously very successful, recent Liberal PM managed to garner (ie 38% in 1997).

  9. "No: he is chipping away at the foundations of the idea of government the Liberals built over decades."

    I think the financial crisis over the past few years has done more to discredit Big Government than whatever minor changes Harper has made/will make. How long does Western World finance things we can't afford off the backs of Chinese peasants?

    Wells Interesting article, depressing topic. Your article got me thinking about how small Ottawa's middle/upper middle classes are and how people start to think alike. I think National Newswatch is great site, very convenient, but it also highlights msm's GroupThink tendencies when 90% of the opinion articles are on same topic and have similar view.

    The census topic has also highlighted how Canadian msm is not conservative. You have to trawl far and wide to find people writing against the census – even tho 6% of Canadians refuse to do census in face of StatsCan bully boys threatening fine/jail for noncompliance – but you didn't have to look very hard at all for all the rent seekers complaining about fascism and the like.

    • The census topic has also highlighted how Canadian msm is not conservative. You have to trawl far and wide to find people writing against the census

      Because there aren't any – except for a few cranky bloggers, Fraser Institute, and the National Citizens Coalition.

      even tho 6% of Canadians refuse to do census in face of StatsCan bully boys threatening fine/jail for noncompliance

      The number of Canadians that believe that Elvis is still alive is probably greater than 6%.

      • Elvis is dead?

    • "The census topic has also highlighted how Canadian msm is not conservative."

      I think you're better argument was that initial QMI poll showed the public split on the issue. Apparently the complaints of people who use the data are more worthy than the general public who are forced to supply the data.

      But the whole debate is even more ridiculous than you portray. The census has people who don't fill it out and no policing mechanism to ensure the data is accurate. This means people who don't want the government to know stuff lie and people who think it's a hassle fill it out quickly and incorrectly with no fear of repercussions. Yet, we're supposed to believe that the current form of our census provides quality data that prevents us from misallocating billions of our tax dollars (whatever 'misallocating' is supposed to mean).

      • The pro-census side of this debate should be arguing for a policing mechanism to the census to ensure quality data and save us from misallocating billions. But apparently they are happy with the half-baked census we have right now. Which leads to the question why they won't be happy with the half-baked census we'll still have after these changes? The whole debate is just bizarre.

        • "But apparently they are happy with the half-baked census we have right now."

          Where did PolJunkie and his/her nothing is sacred rant go? Maybe they could answer your questions about shoddy numbers census produces.

          I was focusing more on msm and its groupthink. It is amazing to me that 160,000 outright refuse to fill out form and who knows how many tens of thousands didn't want to fill out census but backed down after visit from StatsCan bully boys, but Wherry and his msm chums write about how only 26 people complained or somesuch.

          Every now and then it becomes apparent how out of step/witless Canadian msm is and this is one of those occasions. Census brouhaha crosses party lines, supporters from all parties don't like long form census, but all msm can produce is articles on Harper pandering to so-cons and how it is not working.

          • Would it be too much to ask that you stop repeating the canard that 160,000 "outright refuse" to fill out the long form census, as if they are manning the barricades? Certainly there is a portion of the 160,000 who refuse for privacy or anti-government (for lack of a better term) reasons, but many others have pointed out (including those who have worked for the census) that most cases of non-completion are due to more boring reasons like they moved, had forgotten and followups could not locate them. Further, it is apparently the practice of Stats Can to take 97% completion as sufficiently complete.

            So, please stop faking the numbers, you might make us think you are Stockwell Day.

          • ". . . more boring reasons like they moved, had forgotten and followups could not locate them. "

            You forgot to add "too busy doing bong hits."

          • I was too busy doing a bong hit to list all the reasons

          • Fair enough. Good to see you've got your priorities straight.

        • Rubbish. Statscan has a worldwide reputation for the reliability of it's data.

          • Pollsters can get good reputations as well but that doesn't necessarily mean they are right. People lie and distortions to the random sampling methodology happen so no poll is perfect. Which really gets down to the nuts and bolts of this argument. The changes the Conservatives are proposing may make the census less reliable from a statistical methodology perspective but the current method is hardly perfect. I don't really see how Wells can be disillusioned about misallocated money that will result from the change but not disillusioned by the money we're misallocating with the currently flawed system. If there was an obvious way to get this data accurately every country would do it the same way but they don't. So I don't think it's the end of the world if changes are made to how it's done here in Canada.

          • Given a random sampling, can one reasonably assume that the liars don't balance each other out?

            Now.. when you get voluntary sampling.. then you have a problem with that.

          • "Given a random sampling, can one reasonably assume that the liars don't balance each other out?"

            I don't think you can reasonably conclude that. The current rationale is probably along the lines that the fraction of people lying is probably so small that it doesn't really affect the numbers but we don't necessarily know if that assumption is true. It's also not necessarily the liars but people who fill the form out so quickly they simply enter incorrect data by accident.

            "Now.. when you get voluntary sampling.. then you have a problem with that."

            I would argue that people who would voluntarily fill out the forms are less likely to lie or fill it out incorrectly but again that's just a guess. The argument against voluntary sampling is that it is less representative of the population as a whole. I get that. But I also don't think the status quo is all it's being cracked up to be so I'm not really going to freak out about this change one way or another. Harper's snail-like incrementalism has allegedly destroyed Canada so many times already that I don't worry about it anymore.

          • Who cares? Well I guess you do. But if the countries in Europe have given up the retarded nature of the census and haven't come to an end, or fallen of the earth; why do we have to waste money? Just so lazy people (government or think tanks) don't have to go find the info they need. Long before we had these intrusive census questions we were able to address the issues that faced our society in fact I would argue that the census is more for the benefit of Government than for the people.

          • For the Nth time, they don't NEED census or much polling because they have a very intrusive registry system where most important events MUST be reported – moves, etc. It's great to whave near 100% information that you can run through the computers. Israel also has the same registry system.

      • sbt says, "Yet, we're supposed to believe that the current form of our census provides quality data that prevents us from misallocating billions of our tax dollars (whatever 'misallocating' is supposed to mean). "

        The Canada West Foundation and the CD Howe Institute, both neo con organizations, believe the "long form" census is preferable to the short form!

    • Care to explain how "Big Government" brought us the 2007 financial crisis? And what exactly do you mean by this term – the Liberal Reform measures past in the 1930s, 1960s Medicare, etc?

      From where I was sitting, the financial crisis was due to American banks operating without the government regulations that the USA began to scrap in the 1970s.

      • You must have been sitting in the 'reality' section of the theatre. Please understand bergkamp likes it over in the 'ideology trumps facts' balcony.

        • It always seemed like he was in the room where you, you know, project.

      • "Care to explain how "Big Government" brought us the 2007 financial crisis?"

        Not what I wrote but I guess I have to compensate for people sitting in reality section of theatre.

        Financial crisis is going to make Western Countries discuss whether they can afford the next great liberal/progressive program that is going to cost a fortune for negligible results. Also, Chinese and other third world peasants who produce cheap goods, and lend Western World money to pay for middle class entitlements, may start to wonder what they are getting out of this bargain.

        Here is quick rundown of what role Big Government played in financial crisis over past few years:

        -"In 1982, Congress passed the Alternative Mortgage Transactions Parity Act (AMTPA), which allowed non-federally chartered housing creditors to write adjustable-rate mortgages."

        -"In 1995, the GSEs like Fannie Mae began receiving government tax incentives for purchasing mortgage backed securities which included loans to low income borrowers. Thus began the involvement of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with the subprime market"

        -"In 1996, HUD set a goal for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that at least 42% of the mortgages they purchase be issued to borrowers whose household income was below the median in their area. This target was increased to 50% in 2000 and 52% in 2005"

        -"A contributing factor to the rise in house prices was the Federal Reserve's lowering of interest rates early in the decade. From 2000 to 2003, the Federal Reserve lowered the federal funds rate target from 6.5% to 1.0%." All from Wiki

        • I'm not too concerned about the next great society program… Its more about maintaining the institutions we already have. And flatly rejecting supply-side voodoo economics for the utter failure its been for the West, while building a new consensus about the appropriate role of government in the economy.

          What your describing looks more like a case of collusion between Big Finance and Big Government in the housing market. I don't know enough about governments' push for increased home ownership in USA. But I do know that Reagan, Clinton and Bush all played a hand in it, which your dates seem to verify. The guise being that ownership creates economic stability, safer neighbourhoods, and so on, hindsight 20/20 anyone can see it was a house of cards. So you have a case of selective deregulation that favours particular mortgage lenders. From the offset, this is more complicated then SOLEY the government's fault.

        • Wow someone who knows what they are talking about!!

          • Except he doesn't. The only factor there that actually seems to apply is the lowering of interest rates, since Iceland, which has crashed worse than us, didn't have any of those causation factors.. no AMTPA, No Fannie Mae, No Freddie Mac. If what he was talking about had merit, they should be fine. They're not, and it doesn't.

          • Because they are piggy backers.

      • By implicit guarantees against losses by any bank above a certain size.

        The guarantees are now explicit.

        Derek

    • Harper = biggest government in Canadian history

      And it is still expanding at a rate exceeding population growth, inflation, economic growth…

      • It's all part of his brilliant plan to eventually have the federal government wither away to nothing, because he hates government, or so I'm told by apparently reputable sources. I guess he's taking the long route, which is to say, going in precisely the opposite direction.

        • Withering government is not antithesis to an expanding government. One can grow the size of government while withering it's effectiveness – long-form census change or expanding penal capacity for declining crime rates are two current examples.

          • So he wants the government to cost a ton of money, at this rate Scandanavian levels in no time, but just to spend that money ineffectively? My goodness you people, get a grip.

          • "He wants the government to cost a ton of money" – well no, he doesn't want government to cost a ton of money, but it is an unavoidable consequence of spending a ton of money (record spending/deficit and large spending growth). When you speak rhetoric against big government because it can only "spend that money ineffectively" those people you are advising to get a grip include the Conservative party.

            I suspect your advice will fall on deaf ears, however.

          • The ton of maoney wasn't his idea. He had to geton board the stimulus bandwagon. It was only a few weeks befopre that he was in effect saying that stimulus soending is non effective in the long run.

          • As absurd as it sounds, that's often the way it seems from here (quite close by)

          • Why does that seem unlikely to you? He's gone on record several times as being against government. What a better way to kill it off then to bankrupt it on crap that doesn't even bring any benefit to the country? Do that, and yeah, of course people are going to start agreeing with his hypothesis that government can't do anything right.

            Like the motto goes:

            A conservative is someone who thinks government can't do anything right because when they're elected they prove it.

          • Why does that seem unlikely to you?

            Because it is mindbogglingly inane. Bankrupting the country whilst making the state appear as incompetent as possible will make Canadians think, almost to a person, that the Conservative government can't do anything right. They will decisively turf them from office and elect the Liberals in with a massive majority, and banish conservatism to the hinterlands for another few decades. If you think that's Harper's plan, I really can't help you. I'm not sure anyone can.

          • Short memories. It's the liberals who have the motto, "let the money flow."

          • Blacktop says, – Short memories. It's the liberals who have the motto, "let the money flow."

            Wrong group -that is a neo con motto!

          • No, it will only make competent Canadians think such things. In a FPTP system with the opposition split 3 to 4 ways, that still leaves him enough of a base.

    • Well, Okay …. but, in my experience, the bully boys are mostly very pleasant middle-aged
      ladies making a few temporary bucks. And they just love a cup of coffee and a cookie.

    • "I think the financial crisis over the past few years has done more to discredit Big Government than whatever minor changes Harper has made/will make."

      What is wrong with you? Do you even live in Canada?

  10. "The assumption behind so much of our political chatter is that Harper's grip on power hangs by a thread. He likes that assumption. It allows him to keep changing the country while everyone waits for him to fall."

    Indeed Harper's grip on power will remain despite what today's EKOS poll tells us. Why? Because no matter how low his numbers are, he's still facing a divided center-left vote and a powerful Bloc in Quebec.

    There is only one way to dislodge Harper from power:

    A deal between the Dippers and the Libs.

    I used to think that Harper would be done if he delivered yet another minority rule to his troops but those sheep are hopelessly loyal and/or scared of the man. No one will stand up to him or challenge his rule.

    Wells is right. Harper is safe and will continue to dismantle each and every institutions we hold dear. If there's one thing that he has shown us in going after the credibility of Stats Can, it is that nothing NOTHING is sacred.

    • >in going after the credibility of Stats Can, it is that nothing NOTHING is sacred.

      Now that would make a darn good campaign message.

  11. The illusion persists that Harp's very intelligent, and that all this is really a brilliant game of 3D chess we great unwashed just can't fathom.

    It only LOOKS stupid.

    • What he's doing doesn't require great intelligence, just the ability to do simple math. Harper knows his party is safe as long as the center-left remains divided. He also has enough sense to know that he's living on borrowed time and that, at some point, the Libs will come to their senses and make a deal with the Dippers.

      He tried to secure a majority through Quebec but that province is still too progressive for him to keep a firm grip on it. He knows that a majority govt is likely not in the cards for his party while he's the one leading it.

      He therefore is applying the age-old "scorched earth" strategy and it is working. Some of the changes he's made will take years to reverse and that is IF they can be reversed at all. Canadians won't be able to fully appreciate the damages he's made to this country until after he's long gone from power.

      • Or….it's as stupid as it looks, and the rest is our imagination.

        • This is the kind of arrogant thinking that has allowed Harper to stay in power this long. He's no genius. He just has the upper hand with the Right united behind him. Until folks (yeah Libs, this song is about you) understand that and act accordingly, he will continue to have the upper hand.

          Who's the stupid one, I ask you?

          • And is it likely that the Libs and NDP will merge? No.

          • I agree with Emily. But I think there's quite a good chance (especially given the Ekos numbers) that they may form the next govt together, a la 1972-74.

          • I don't want them to merge. It would never work. I'm hoping that people realize that there are several other options worth considering.

          • If you figure Canadians are going to vote NDP or Green en masse….you're dreaming in technicolour

          • Emily? Add the percentages of pollling support for the NDP and the Libs. What does your math tell you?

          • I'm sorry, but there is no backing for either a merger or a coaltion within the parties

          • There would probably be plenty of support among ordinary Canadians who are not partisan idiots, but none of the parties are listening to them.

          • Maybe, maybe not. But we're not likely to find out.

          • I'm listening.

      • 'Libs will come to their senses and make a deal with the Dippers'

        And that has been Harper's biggest success,
        reducing the LPC to half of a coalition deal.

        • Inspiring. Truly.

        • I have to agree with Anon Lib here.

          If you can't grasp the paucity of the Harper regime after pointing out this measly scrap as his biggest success, then there truly is no hope for you wilson.

      • "A deal between the Dippers and the Libs."

        Myth. Only with today's iteration of leaders. And even then, there is a ton of risk of losing Liberals to Conservative.

        Harper is incremental, not scorched earth! There are almost no substantive ideological changes his government had made that can't be undone by the next guy with a stroke of the pen. I beleive you are in the camp that overstates the nation's disdain for the Conservatives.

        • There would be some Libs that would leave for the Cons….and some Cons that would leave for the Libs….and some that will become independent….same as there was when Reform merged with the PCs.

      • What damages?

    • He is supposed to LOOK STUPID …… to us
      ("us" as in the approx 60% of the country that already hates him and hopes for a return to rational gov't )
      He is SO stupid – he can't last, right?

      That, I believe is Well's point, and alas you have just proved it, dear Emily.

      • Again….the 3D chess theory. Still not valid, sorry.

        Many stupid leaders have lasted in office….Bush got two terms.

        • And what does that say about the population that allowed them to stay in power that long?

          • Oh I think you know what it says.

          • I do. What about you?

          • It says the population cant or won't think. It takes some effort, and anyway my TV show is on.

        • Part of the Bush strategy was to appear stupid.
          Worked pretty god while he was wrecking his country … and the world.

          • In Bush's case the reality matched the image.

  12. Actually the summer bus tour is taking a page right out of the Conservative's media coverage handbook – forgo national coverage for local coverage.

    Sure, no national news organization, is going to cover the whole tour – that's not the point. The point is that local news is always desperate for content and when the leader of the opposition shows up to the local barbecue/coffee shop/recycling plant etc. that's a good local news day.

    Its the exact same strategy the Conservatives used several years ago to raise Harper's profile and sidestep the criticisms of the Ottawa press.

    You know what they say about imitation…

    • Agreed about the local media coverage. That is a huge bonus for the Liberals, and one that's completely lost on those who focus on national coverage and/or, like most of us, don't live in ridings that are being visited. People often forget that a federal election is really 308 mini-elections.

  13. The word "wicked" is how Harper should always be described. Thank you for putting it in print. I'd add a few others to that, but I'm sure that by the time the media has fully awakened to what a parasitical monster we have in Parliament, all the words will be out there.

    • "but I'm sure that by the time the media has fully awakened to what a parasitical monster we have in Parliament"

      You sure are the optimist, aren't you?

      • Depends on what you hold dear to you PolJunkie; perhaps she's referring to: seeing parliament as an important democratic institution, policy based on statistical indicators, empowering cabinet members, allowing protesters a voice, looking at scientific evidence of the rehabilitation of convicts and/or harm reduction through things like safe injection sites, both of which reduce the need for prisons, reducing our impact on climate change…

        I know I'm preaching to the converted PolJunkie; just thought I'd support Margaret's strong "wicked" adjective for Harper because it fits; even the "strong optimist" I've been told I am, usually.

    • Are you human? Seriously, are you? What vitriol garbage, Margaret.

      I actually find the garbage on this site, shocking but then observe that the same people are making the comments. You have been skewed by your politics, not facts. There is not a more engaging, amiable, intelligent guy than the Prime Minister and this is coming from someone that needed to do her homework.

      Shyness and humility, does NOT make him a monster. Get some depth and facts before sounding like a dagger spewing partisan.

      • Reba says, "There is not a more engaging, amiable, intelligent guy than the Prime Minister and this is coming from someone that needed to do her homework."

        If that is correct, then why has Prime Monster Harper rejected the United Nartion Declaration of Rights for Indigenous Peoples and cancelled the Kelowna Accord that would have improved the lives of Native Peoples in Canada?

      • Reba,the liberal hacks are always out in force here at Mcleans, starting to look like the Mop & Pail,they smear and insult but little else vitriol garbage sums it up pretty good.

  14. A lot of people just don't get the strategy that Harper has always used and will always use! He is by definition a counter-puncher so he revels in a straight up fight and not from being way out ahead – it's all in the trend lines and the decisions that he has made since first becoming PM – think about the present issue with the census if Harper were genuinely concerned he would compromise quickly and bury the file but he hasn't and it seems hard for a lot of people to understand why – basically there are 3 reasons (1) beautiful issue to fill up media and pundits buckets of nonsense (2) great card to play if the time comes to compromise to say give jack or Iggy a card to avoid an election – because with these numbers no one really wants one despite what they say (3) does anyone really believe that the regular canadian out there wants an election over this issue? hmmmm

    • Harper needs an appreciable number of university educated Globe and Mail-reading Canadians to win elections. The latest polls have him tied with the Liberals largely because he plummeted in that group. Its not so much that people care about the census, it is about what it represents in terms of competence.

      • If that's true, hth, that's consistent with what I figured. I think there's a significant number of Red Tories who have held their nose and stuck it out with Harper for some time now. But this census decision is precisely the kind of thing that would tend to turn them off big-time. And I also think that's where Harper may have made a stragegic miscalculation — he's tended to think he doesn't need Red Tories. I don't think that's correct — he may not need all of them, but I don't think he can be successful if they desert the CPC en masse.

          • She usually has the best view in my opinion.

        • Red Tories are Progressive Conservatives! Harper'sparty is the "Canadian Republican / Reform Alliance Party!

  15. "Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence."

  16. At some point a politician will arrive on the scene in Canada with genuine ideas that appeal to a majority of Canadians and not be afraid of speaking to Canadians in a straightforward manner. When that happens, Stephen Hasrper will be finished.

    • Yeah? That was Stephane Dion. Look what happened to him…

      • PJ – not just someone who is perceived to have those attributes…but someone who can execute.

        • XYZ, we don't know if Dion could have or have not executed his policies; unfortunately, his poor communcation and leadership skills, and his general 'bookishness' meant his philosophy and intelligence didn't matter.

          • I disagree with that. Considering what Dion had to offer this country compared to Stephen Harper, the fault is with us, not him. If you want to hang on to the Not-a-Leader line (a tory talking point, BTW), go right ahead, but you will never get me and a great many others to believe that Harper has better communication and leadership skills than Dion. The difference between the two is that one had the loyalty of his caucus and a press gallery all to willing to look the other way.

    • "speaking … in a straightforward manner"*
      Do ya think he'll (she'll) be carrying stone tablets ala Moses?
      Sorry Sunshine, methinks you are just another one of the folks Wells is portraying above:
      waiting for the inevitable end-of-Harper

      *they are all too busy perusing the polls

      • "Sorry Sunshine, methinks you are just another one of the folks Wells is portraying above: waiting for the inevitable end-of-Harper "

        You just summed up my frustration. Harper is only in this position because people continue to stick their heads in the sand and won't do what needs to be done.

        Not sure if Sunshine is a Liberal but he sure talks like one: "if only we had the right leader blah blah blah…"

        No wonder Harper holds them in disdain. If the PC and Reformers… THE REFORMERS… were able to put their differences aside to take on Paul Martin, why oh why won't the Libs do the same with the Dippers? They don't even need to merge. There is enough anti-Harper sentiment in this country to take him out with a simple agreement between the two parties for the next election.

        But no… They stubbornly want to wait for Moses to show up. Meanwhile, Harper is going on a tear through everything we hold dear and the rest of us have to sit there and watch him…

        • I think the problem lies more with Dippers than Libs, though. Liberals are, ahem, shall we say willing to make compromises to gain power, whereas NDPers (not always, but mostly) would rather be principled than effective.

          • Not on your life. The Dippers would make a deal in a heart beat as this is their only chance to ever form a government and have cabinet seats.

            The problem is most certainly with the Libs. They are the ones who still believe that they have enough appeal to win on their own. More importantly, some are too far to the right (Iggy) to even consider teaming up with Layton.

            That being said, it is just a matter of time before these individuals' voices get drowned out by the rest of the caucus and the leadership.

            When you have 4 parties splitting the vote on the center-right, it is next to impossible to win against Harper. His support would have to drop below that of the Liberals. Well below.

            Some might be willing to wait for that to happen. The rest of us who are watching Harper destroy what we hold dear simply aren't.

          • Well I agree with you if your talking about MPs /party brass. But the roots of the NDP, the social activists and so forth, would see a merger with the Liberals as a deal with the devil. They would split off and either inflate the Green Party or form a new, farther-left party.

          • I guess the NDPers gave up their principles in 2004 when they signed an agreement with the Harper Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois to form a Coalition government.

    • Finished, but not not before he has done immeasurable damage to our country.

  17. OK Paul,
    Perhaps I've been reading you too long and now anticipate your musings …. (Right Side Up: great book btw, I even paid for it, though I'll borrow the next one from the library as I am not as flush, now ;-)
    so look what I posted yesterday on another MacLeans blog:
    "These noodniks are going to pull this off (building and filling new prisons, killing all good gov't such as the census) – just like the prorogation battle ended in Iggy whimpers as he caved on the detainee issue and left Harper with a giant Cheshire-cat-smile. "

  18. Wells may have written variations of this column before, but it's a welcome diversion into other aspects of the political game.

    I'm looking forward to some kind of analysis of optimum campaign strategies for each leader. Harper's campaign narratives pretty well write themselves.

    But what will Iggy and Jack talk about for 36 days ? Given that there won't be a merger, it's shaping up to be one heck of a confusing narrative coming from the on-again, off-again coaltion Parties. Can they go all that time saying: vote for one of us because Harper is evil ?

    • Plenty to talk about.
      Alas, no one* to listen.

      *co-opted media, somnolent swing voters

      • So… write off everyone as too stupid to understand?

    • As a pro-evil voter, you can't be TOO against evil – what about the evil-good swing voter? In the words of Sideshow Bob: "Your guilty consciences may force you to vote Democratic, but secretly you yearn for a cold-hearted Republican who'll cut taxes, brutalize criminals, and rule you like a king! You need me, Springfield!"

      • They did need him.

        And that episode was libelous. Everybody knows it's the Dems who get the dead vote. The GOP prevents people from voting.

    • Deficit busting is Ignatieff's only hope – but he won't have the nads, and likely isn't credible.

      Jack's 15 minutes are up.

    • Yes.

  19. God you're depressing. Especially since I agree with you.

  20. Its not all bad. In about 20 years we may reach the level of perennial losers that are vaguely respected by the literati. Why you or I could be out generation's Michael Dukakis! In 30 we may even take power for a single term, but basically govern like the other guys. Then its just 10 more years of impotent rage and being called a traitor till hubris finally gets those lefties. Indeed, then we can finally accomplish our highest of goals: sweet, sweet revenge.

  21. You're right, the country has changed, it's become less cohesive, its residents more spiteful and self-centred, and its attitude toward leadership – political, scientific, humanitarian, environmental – increasingly cynical and complacent.

    Haha, I'd love to know the basis for this all-encompassing rant. How did you measure Canadians' "attitude toward leadership", for example? And the spitefulness and self-centredness of its residents, can I see those stats in an excel file?

    • I'm starting to think the plus minus system is not working the way it's intended.

  22. This could very well be a turning point.

    Very few in the punditocracy predicted the kind of backlash that the Conservatives are experiencing with their idiotic census change and then: … the letters-to-the-editors pages filled up with Conservative mocking and outrage, Canadians started complaining to their MPs and a lot of people started talking about how hopeless the Conservatives are…. And this after a billion-dollar security debacle at the G20. Now the Cons are dropping in the polls.

    At some point Canadians were going to wake up to this government's incompetence… This may (finally) be that time… You can't screw up multiple times in a row in a short span of a few months and not have the electorate notice…

    • Sorry, Dee
      they do not care about the "electorate".
      Only the +-25% they have in the bag (the truly brain-dead base)
      and the 10% to 15% of swing voters they need to eke out a FPTP victory against a fractured opposition.

      • Never said the Cons cared about the electorate. Recent policy positions would suggest otherwise. But I suspect even some hard-core Conservative supporters are starting to question why they voted for Harper last time, given that the current government is busy vapourizing taxpayers' money on unneeded jets and prisons.

  23. Haha, yes, it's like you're of one mind. It's uncanny.

    • I think I feel the sting of sarcasm … oh the pain.

  24. He was a terrible communicator, particularly in the language spoken by the overwhelming majority of Canadians.

  25. In twenty years we'll be struggling to find something to replace oil with. Honestly, we're near or have already hit peak oil, and given our exponential economic growth curves, that's not a good thing.

    Better hope the scientist get those damn fusion generators working pretty quickly, becauase we're pretty close to peak uranium too.

    And peak coal.

  26. The remarkable thing is that there are any, let alone several columnists who are still wondering if Harper knows he's wrecking things. (Wells excepted)

    Maybe sports writers would figure it out sooner. Harper chucks beanballs for 4 years (not including his stint in the minor leagues) and Larry, Roy and L. Ian think they need to warn him to be careful because he might hit another batter. Psst, guys. He hit where he aimed.

    Personally, I'm ready to charge the plate …

    • Wrecking things? The funniest comment I heard in this whole nonsense was someone from Indian Affairs saying that they needed the data to continue serving the needs of the native population with the world renowned efficiency of their organisation. Sorry, they didn't put it that way, but close.

      And the most helpful comment was a letter from a Liberal Dan McTeague saying that in spite of the threat Statistics Canada has never, let me repeat NEVER imprisoned anyone for not filling out the form. Great. I know what I'll do with it if I receive it.

      If the best argument against Harper is to bring back the competence and governing ability of the Liberal Party of Canada, I think Mr Wells is on to something. Harper is going to be around for a while yet.

  27. Dee: That's just it isn't it? The media prognosticators never see the big changes coming. Ever.

    Essentially there's is a job dedicated to framing current reality with a nice story that ties up all the loose ends.

    And then change comes and they act like it was inevitable and foreseeable, except of course that no one saw it coming.

    After all, the papers had Paul Martin winning government in 2006 until two weeks before the election.

    • Hard not to (mostly) agree with you. It would be useful if more journalists and columnists would take Jeffrey Simpson's lead and produce a column every year describing all the errors they had made in their previous year of prognostications and analysis. If engineers had similar predictive success rates that some reporters have, we would have buildings and bridges collapsing all around us.

  28. Anyone who quotes James Travers and Lawrence Martin in successive paragraphs needs to be ignored!

    These 3 amigos are Liberal stooges!

    • You've missed the point of Wells quoting Star and Globe columnists. If you re-read this piece you'll see that Wells' assessment is that they're off the mark.

      • you are assuming there is "someone home" at Gary' place.
        Nope.
        Just enough brain function there to regurgitate talking points.

    • And to top it off, he quotes Liberal uber-stooge L. Ian Macdonald!

  29. Let us keep slinging stones, unwaveringly, until the philistine giant inevitably succumbs, never to recover.

    The reformer shall be slain.

  30. The trouble is that Wells assumes Harper's actions are rational. Sometimes Harper is irrational.

    • Harper may seem irrational in our eyes, but he follows his own logic. He is a planner, he projects, employs strategies and tactics… all while being pretty good at improvising, being able to take a situation, however negative, and then spinning it in his favour.

      Harper's modus operandi : his favourite move is to 'throw it in your face', go for the jugular and plough ahead — if that doesn't succeed, soften the tone (just a little) and go the diplomatic route, while always preferring to obfuscate and filibuster in lieu of compromise, and if he's literally cornered, then and only then will he give in seeing he has absolutely no choice, e.g. Milliken's ruling on the Afghan detainee files.

      • Except, with a little help from the gutless wonder (Iggy), Harper finessed Milken's ruling into thin air. ie He had a choice and alas, he won that one too.

      • Harper is a medium-term strategist, but usually not a long-term one. His plans usually involve maneuvering the Liberals into doing something stupid (I am pretty sure he uses game theory regularly). He doesn't care if an issue is unpopular in the short-term, so long as they work out a little bit later. For instance, his stance on the Lebanon conflict was unpopular, BUT it was a low salience issue for most Canadians. In the medium-term he was able to make big inroads among Jewish voters.

        That said, in a really long-term sense there is something missing. Harper isn't changing the way we evaluate or think about government. He isn't constructing a natural conservative majority. He isn't expanding the Conservative tent (although that is partly because big tent conservative coalitions have never been sustainable – Diefenbaker and Mulroney both flamed out with very bad consequences for their parties).

  31. You can be sure that Harper has more tricks up his sleeve.
    He probably has a top ten list of policies he wants to implement that anger the lamestream media, while garnering cheers from the working class.
    And, also, each policy will all be guaranteed to keep Harpers face front and centre in the media.
    He probably spends much of his time coming up with inventive new policies that will serve these purposes.
    This long census policy is a case in point. It's doing everything he hoped it would.

    • Re: "…inventive new policies…"

      Aaah, yes. New policies like ignoring facts. Strange. I can't hear any cheers from the "working class"… Most of the "average" Canadians I've talked to recently seem to be pretty fed up with having a government populated by morons.

  32. Some very good points here, but I'm not convinced.

    Regarding the census, I think the notion that Harper did it in order to deliberately handicap Stats Canada is ridiculous. Perhaps, as Wells suggests, the intent was to awaken people to the intrusion of the government into their lives. If so then why not tackle the HRTs instead, thus accomplishing the same thing while dismantling something that actually does trample on individual rights and freedoms?

    As to the last paragraph though, I agree.

    • The HRTs? Are you serious? So that Harper can be painted as "against human rights"? As someone who hates every vulnerable group you can imagine (that is, the 75% of the population who aren't relatively wealthy, white males)? I think Harper's learned his lesson in that regard.

      • I think Olaf's right that, although there are significant problems with the HRTs especially in terms of the vexatious hate-speech prosecutions, no politician who wants to get elected or remain in office is willing to touch this thing with a barge pole. The "optics" are seen as awful. It's way too easy for an opponent to portray you as racist, misogynist, etc. etc. Just look at how Warren Kinsella goes at it when ever this issue comes up, and that gives you a taste of what would happen.

        I suppose it could be different "optics" if the politician leading the charge against the HRTs were an African-Canadian lesbian, but that's for another day.

  33. I just noticed that the flag in the picture is upside down as reflected on the glass Harper is drinking from. Is that what Wells means by the headline "Harper's got us just where he wants us" ? Drole, Wells, very drole.

    • An upside-down flag means "help".

      • Yes, "help", as in a distress signal, SOS, the good ship Canada is sinking and the Great Helmsman is blaming the iceburg for being, well, ice. And in his way.

  34. Ha! that gets thumbs

  35. "Dammit Jim, I'm a Doctor not a Statistician!"

    Seriously, it's a bit difficult to get excited about a midsummer poll. Didn't we go through a similar phenomenon last year which ended sharply with the "Your-Time-Is-Up speech"? Also, EKOS regional numbers, which have been going through some very wild fluctuations in the last summer months, weren't even presented in the present poll (at least, I was unable to find the breakdowns). Perhaps someone can provide a link.

    Under the circumstances, Liberals ought to be as wary of the loss of an 11% Con lead, as the Cons were of the 11% lead a few weeks ago.

    • Oh never mind I just found regional numbers.. .http://www.ekospolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/full_report_august_5.pdf

      Still hard to find anything to cheer about for the Libs. They are still in 3rd place in BC, tied in Ont with the Cons at 31%. They're only improvement is in the Atlantic, but the regional numbers there have a 9% margin of error.

      I still stand by my contention that summer polls are fairly useless, even more so when the sampling shows such striking movement in the absence of an obvious issue that voters are paying attention to.

      • Sorry, Their not They're.

      • Re: "I still stand by my contention that summer polls are fairly useless, even more so when the sampling shows such striking movement in the absence of an obvious issue that voters are paying attention to."

        Granted, it is just one poll. But it is also the worst level of support level for the Conservatives in almost 4 years. And "the absence of an obvious issue" that voters are paying attention to? Maybe you been off camping in the wilderness but there has been plenty of controversy over the G20/long-form census debacle/expensive unnecessary jets/building-prisons-with-a-decreasing-crime-rate? Canadians are getting annoyed at the brain-dead approach of the Conservatives, and that seems to be reflected in this poll.

  36. It's ideological warfare, yes.

    The garrison party, as Flanagan put it.

  37. Maybe the other party leaders need to stop discussing the Harper Conservatives so much and hammer away at their own vision of government for Canada.
    If the Liberals can't make gains during the Conservatives slumps than what does that say for their progress?

  38. Poor Harper – he reminds me of that old adage……….the parents watching their son marching in a parade and saying: "Look, dear, he's the ONLY one marching in step".

    We have finally fallen to the very depths of 'dregdom' with this group of brain-deprived sub-humans.

  39. Oh and, en passant, did anybody else catch this item about a PCO-sponsored focus group study in which a cross-country sample of Canadians expressed frustration with the quantity and quality of the information they get from this government about its policy directions? Gee, for a minute there I was tempted to believe the CPC meme that Canadians don't really care about that stuff.

    Of course, Stockwell Day cheerfully volunteers the view that Canadians are wilfully ignorant despite the CPC's best efforts to inform them and that they should be grateful for all the illuminating talking points the CPC spews their way (yes, he quite literally says this). Can someone please take the Stockmeister aside and explain, slowly, that talking points represent precisely the kind of pseudo-information for which Canadians have developed a total contempt and then provide him with a definition of "information", pointing him to the appropriate alphabetical section of the dictionary if necessary?

    All in all, not a good week for Stock, I'd say…

    • Back about June 6-7 Michael Blanchfield and Jim Bronskill of CP were writing about MEP's. Google either name along with meps and you get other articles such as these:

      "…"In the end, you risk fracturing society rather than uniting it. In that sense, I would say these are not healthy developments," said Brown, who worked in several federal departments, including the Privy Council Office…" http://www.thespec.com/article/783174
      http://www.j-source.ca/english_new/detail.php?id=

      And of course Day doesn't get that the problem is not that too few of us are parrotting Harperite talking points.

      • …you risk fracturing society rather than uniting it…

        …which, for the CPC, is not a "risk" so much as an aspiration.

  40. The 65% of Canadians will never win an election while they divide their vote between the Libs, NDP, Greens, & Bloc.
    The 35% wanna-be Americans will continue to win.

    I wouldn't have such a problem with them,(PCs), if Mulroney hadn't sold us out to them,(U.S.), in terms of our Oil and Water, (NAFTA).

    And everything Harper has said and done for the last 30 years points to him wanting to make Canada another State.

    • JSC sayas, "And everything Harper has said and done for the last 30 years points to him wanting to make Canada another State. "

      That's why I label Harper's Conservatives the "Canadian Republican / Reform Alliance Party."

  41. Thank God we have Paul Wells unbiased attacks on the conservatives, I say we should all move somewhere safe like Burma or Russia or Iran before Harper completely destroys the country.
    Then, while in absentia we can organize a seance and contact the ghost of trudeau so he can tell us how to save Canada from these nefarious bastards. Then we can ride in and smite them with the hand of Ignatief and we can be free again!!! Hallelujah
    So quickly all good liberals head for the borders of safety and escape before Harper comes to our homes and takes our valuables and women HURRRYYY!!!

    • Keep Trudeau out of this. Had enough of that poseur to last a lifetime let alone calling up hiis ghost, Cap'n. . No keep Cons as minority until that far far off day when Liberals again know whop they art.. The rot of corruption still smells.

    • I'll remember that talking point in future when we have a non-Conservative government. "Don't criticize the government, at least we're not Burma you know."

  42. When the Liberals get their act together – come up with an alternative plan that appeals to the 66 pct of voters – Harper will be gone. He is living on borrowed time. Will the Liberals get their act together soon? Show some spine and be a true opposition instead of a secret supporter of the conservatives.

  43. "…when they do something unexpected and even a bit flaky, they can usually create a constituency for change where none existed. The influence of the bully pulpit is real whether it is skilfully used or not."

    That's very good, as is the rest. I think this is the best Wells column I've read in a while. It's nice to have something direct, pointed, without what is sometimes the too frequent smart, oh-so-clever but obfuscating 'I can't really say what I want to say' humour.

  44. Another Harper bashing from Wells and like someone else posted you know your a liberal hack when your quoting James Travers and Lawrence Martin.News flash Wells another issue created in Ottawa by the not so main stream press gallery that the average Canadian ( Toronto not included) cares nothing about or agrees with.When do you liberal hacks get it through your heads what's important to you is not to us, now i'm sure you will be writing next about Harper's poll numbers as you can't let Travers get to far ahead of you and when you do keep in mind you will find very few people outside of Toronto that will agree with you so don't hold back in the least we all know what you and your pals end goals are,but you'll never get your PM iggy no matter how hard you hacks try.Maybe Toronto can leave Canada and iggy can be PM of it or i'm sure he would rather be President,more suited to his own country anyway.

    • You didn't read this article at all did you? Go back and see what he actually says about Travers and Martin's assertions.

  45. People are like sheep–can't think for themselves! As long as they listen 2 the media telling them– Harper is this & that- & can't win a majority–(applies 2 all parties)—— it happens!. so– start thinking for yourself– & vote 4 something positve–he clearly says 4 what he stands for-so do not digress! Thanks

  46. Sorry Paul, but if you think the long form is :one of the few tools we have for measuring the effectiveness of the things governments do." you are way out to lunch. The long form does nothing of the kind – every government program is evaluated separately on the basis of what its expected outcomes (results) were – it has NOTHING to do with the long form survey (and it is not a census since it goes to only a portion of the population – you know like all other surveys).

    The problem has always been that most government program – particularly those developed by Liberal governments had very vague outcomes and little, if any, evaluation as done other than head counts (how many people participated, how many brochures distributed, etc.). It is only been in recent years (as in under Harper) that federal government departments have been under the gun to demonstrate that their programs actually led to results. And because many of the programs had vague outcomes to begin with, government departments are having a hard time to justify continuing many programs.

    The long form survey cannot possibly go into the depth that is required to answer the questions for government program effectiveness. Anything requiring a local view cannot be addressed because the current numbers are not there and more to the point – the various government programs need much more specific data from the receiptents, stakeholders, users of the various programs.

  47. What really bothers me is that the media continues to suggest that the long form survey is being discontinued – when it is not. It is becoming a voluntary survey – just like all other surveys, and it will go to more households. OMG the world is ending.

    Tired of the MSM lies about the long form and if I read one more time a MSM article that the long form census is 'scraped', I just might have to call a lawyer and sue for lies.

    • Its usefulness is being destroyed, as a resulat of the Conservatives' stupid, wasteful decision.

    • And if you don't wake up to the difference between true random sampling and self-selection bias, I might just have to call a lawyer and sue for statistical accuracy.

  48. There has been nothing but hand-waving from people who talk a good game about their interest in policy numeracy, but show none of it, with respect to the census.
    How much per year, on average, will the voluntary census cost?
    What will be the expected sampling error increase?
    What fraction of spending is so sensitive to the sort of information found in the long form that "billions will be misallocated"? Which programs and how much money is at stake?
    A truly limited government doesn't need the data to function well.

    • "A truly limited government doesn't need the data to function well. "

      The stoopider government the better, eh?

  49. Move on….

    The Long-Form Census is no longer involuntary. All those who oppose the long form know this.

    Here is a non-scientific look at it

    51% – support the mandatory long form census.

    49% – do not

    Conservative support is at 29% (supposedly)

    This is the most broad-based policy that this government has implemented – This is reaching out (but not to the Ottawa Media Slugs)- hahaha I love it!

  50. Seems to me that the author was only speaking for himself. In that case I agree. Stephen Harper has You just where he wants you. Right in his back pocket.

    Since this was written of course, Harper has continued that slide that Paul Wells said would not be likely. So much for punditry. We are reaching the Tipping point and even if he does not fall off the edge, his support will never be above 34% ( It's 29.7 now). Harper is done Paul, stop kissing his ring. http://biy.ly/TheTwainShallMeet

  51. The next census will follow the outline of another timeless Shakespearean play, Julius Caesar. It will be confined to the Liberal Party and will incorporate some of the features of the Liberal's own reality show, already well into production. The main focus will be to pinpoint who plays Cassius, and who acts the part of Brutus. The part of Caesar is already cast but the script drifts around to: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings”

  52. First of all, Wells exaggerates the reliability of census data on a penalized vs. voluntary long-form survey. The idea that by going to a voluntary system or scrapping the long form census altogether will result in the "misappropriation of billions of dollars" is drama-queen over-reaction.

    The fact is the cons are governing in a rather boring, somewhat competent way. No wonder the liberal msm has to pick on such insignificant details. The tyranny of small differences. ("Harper is destroying the fabric of our Canadian distinction…" Give me a break.)

    Calling S. Harper and the Conservatives "idiots" or the like only serves to discredit the writer's argument and not the cons. (. Traverse, Siddiqui etc.) Clement, Day, Flaherty, Baird et. al are no more/less idiotic or incompetent then, let's say, Igniatieff, Rae, Layton, Kennedy Dryden, Trudeau etc. Actually, given the current political landscape, the Cons definitely are the better option.

    • No, actually Harper and his thugs are stupider as well as more incompetnent, more wasteful and more dishonest.. Every competent statistician in the country has told Harper he is wrong, wrong, wrong, but the stupid arrogant man refuses to listen to his betters.

  53. The census brouhaha, in a MYL nutshell, just for my friends here at Blog Central:

    The mandatory long form was so successful in the past because it was mandatory. The data was superb because it came with the MANDATORY* stamp on it (bottom of page 2, ahead of the Table of Contents in the StatsCan report, the '*' is explained by "shhhh: it's not really mandatory since we don't fine or prosecute, but don't tell anyone or you'll ruin it"). Or actually it wasn't explained on page 2, because the stats experts held fast to the "mandatory" lie all along.

    And so, it is just awful to move it from never-really-mandatory-by-any-reasonable-enforcement to voluntary, because, well, because the data quality will suffer. And suffer it will, because what was really voluntary all along may suffer a lower participation rate just because the government is actually being honest that the thing actually is pretty voluntary.