Centre of the Continent

Thoughts from the middle of North America

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Statistics Lesson

There is absolutely no credibility to Tom Broadbeck’s weekend column bashing the provincial government for it’s deficit. Mr. Broadbeck offers absolutely no context for the numbers that he presents and any figure out of context is meaningless. When I was a very young goaltender, I had a goals against average of 0.02 goals per game. “Wow”, you might say, “that’s spectacular!” Actually, I was horrible. I usually got one or two shots a game and most of them came from far beyond the blue line. That is context. It is information that when missing makes the numbers meaningless or worse totally misrepresentative.

First, let’s look at his deficit claim of $511 million dollars for 2010/11. My research puts it around $545 million but that discrepancy aside, what does it really mean? Below is a chart I compiled of the ten provinces and their shortfalls for the current fiscal period.


Deficit 2010/11 GDP 2011 (est.) Deficit % of GDP
Alberta 4,750,000,000 192,841,000,000 2.46%
British Columbia 1,720,000,000 172,369,000,000 1.00%
Manitoba 545,000,000 44,551,000,000 1.22%
New Brunswick 749,000,000 24,422,000,000 3.07%
Newfoundland 194,000,000 19,937,000,000 0.97%
Nova Scotia 222,000,000 29,982,000,000 0.74%
Ontario 19,700,000,000 542,545,000,000 3.63%
PEI 55,000,000 4,353,000,000 1.26%
Quebec* 4,500,000,000 281,675,000,000 1.60%
Saskatchewan** -20,000,000 19,937,000,000 n/a




TOTAL 32,415,000,000 1,332,612,000,000 2.43%









*Includes $8.3 billion in HST Federal Transfers
** Budget only shows surplus because Saskatchewan dipped into it’s “Rainy Day Fund”)

As a percentage of our gross domestic product (GDP) it is only 1.22 percent. That debt to output ratio is pretty good. It puts us in fourth place out of the ten provinces and well below the national average. In some further research also found that as a percentage of provincial revenue, we are also in fourth place. Frankly, that’s not too shabby for our small prairie province. What Mr. Broadbeck also doesn’t tell you is that “the province’s out-of-control” deficit is actually lower this year then last and though 2014 is expected to continue to fall. To give even more information to work with, here’s what RBC’s economic evaluation for June 2011 had to say:

Carried by a wave of capital investment and solid demand for
the products and services produced in their province, Alberta, Saskatchewan,
and Manitoba are set to achieve above-average growth this year.

Provincial Forecast – RBC Financial (link below)

Economic growth means more revenue. More revenue allows more spending. No provincial government nor the federal is running in the black right now. That’s to be expected when there is an economic downturn. If the price to achieve solid economic growth is running a deficit a little over one percent of our GDP, who in their right mind would argue that?

Context. What the column likes to bring in as some sort of counterpoint to the deficit claim is a 10.8% increase in spending from 2009 to 2011. Without the a comparison to revenue it’s just a number. My very rough calculations put a revenue increase of nearly 7% over the same period. So there is a real difference of less then 4%. Coming out of a global recession is that so horribly bad?

No.

It’s quite good actually.

Endnotes:

NDP Say: Charge It! – Winnipeg Sun — Saturday, July 9, 2011 – http://www.winnipegsun.com/2011/07/09/ndp-say-charge-it

Most provinces in deficit position – CBC News – Monday, May 3, 2010 – http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/story/2010/04/29/f-provincial-deficits.html

Provincial Forecast – RBC Financial — http://www.rbc.com/economics/market/pdf/provfcst.pdf

Government of Manitoba Budget Summary – 2009 – http://www.gov.mb.ca/finance/budget09/papers/r_and_e.pdf

Government of Manitoba Budget Summary – 2011 –http://www.gov.mb.ca/finance/budget11/papers/r_and_e.pdf

Disaster Politics

So the provincial Conservatives will be going hard at the incumbent NDP MLA’s over perceived flood botched flood response. Comments asking those affected to compare themselves to victims of other disasters was a horrible thing to do – true or not. All of that aside, only a desperate party would use a natural disaster to try and gain power.

When it comes to water, Manitoba is full. It really does not matter what was done, someone was going to suffer. Perhaps the Conservatives would like to return to the days when there was no control systems in place? To the situations like the 1997 flood of the century or worse. These are water levels not seen in at least 350 years. Hugh McFadden can spout all he wants about what he calls mistakes but he produces no expert to dispute the actions of the government. He can only echo the cries of the rightfully upset victims and try to give credibility to a few “what if’s” and “maybe’s” . If only the decision was made to lower the lever of Lake Manitoba earlier. Maybe there didn’t need to be a deliberate breach. We can all be arm-chair water drainage experts and claim we could have done better but I certainly don’t have any proof to back it up. Neither does anyone in the provincial Conservative party.

I absolutely support any and all efforts to return all this year’s flood victims to as close to where they were before as possible, but we must be realistic. First homes and businesses need to be given priority. Summer residences and cottages, not so much. More importantly, the opportunity to learn from this must not be allowed to pass. As nice as lakefront beach houses are, there is a risk assumed with that as assuredly as if the home was built on the side of a mountain in an earthquake or avalanche prone area of the world. That known risk is unfortunately part of the cost of building there.

I can see the demonizing ads now. Two elections ago it was crime. Overall crime rates were and are still falling. (Don’t believe what you read in the Sun.) There was a guy – the stereotypical criminal – trying to scare the elderly into voting for a Conservative government. Who will the Conservatives use this time? Perhaps a caricature of Mother Nature? Fortunately for the NDP, governments rarely change when things are going well.  The economy in Manitoba is growing and is stable. Things have been managed well through the recession and while that is little comfort for the flood victims, their anger alone won’t be enough for a Conservative victory.

And don’t forget …

It was under Howard Pawley that we lost the Jets and he was kicked out the very next year. NHL hockey is back and after that first pro puck drops, nothing else will really matter. The Manitoba NDP will be one of the first to reap the benefits come October.

Positive Politics

HocPeople don’t change their political stripes very often. There will always be the protest votes and those who have no permanent affiliation but of those that make a consistent party choice, that choice rarely varies. Only two overall factors can affect change –one is negative and the other is positive. The latter has the ability to be much more long-lasting and should be preferred.

Major Scandal

The scandal must be big and it must be verifiable. It also must have credible connections to the upper echelon of party leadership. This is where the idea of plausible deniability comes into play coupled with overall responsibility. The Liberal sponsorship affair is just such an example. There were links to Prime Minister Chrétien and his own riding and such blatant pork-barrelling that nation and especially Quebec severely punished the Liberal party. Then finance minister Paul Martin was caught in a no win situation. Either he knew about the misappropriations and he was guilty or he didn’t and he was incompetent. We all know that those MP’s in government tend to get more attention for their ridings but this is not usually as much political as it is a result of being “in the loop”. The governing party has the resources and the clout to get things done. It just means that if you do have a non-government MP in your riding that is still accomplishing things, hang on to that MP. He or she has somehow found the respect and or the connections to get things done from outside the inner circle and that is pretty amazing. All that being said, former senator Larry Smith learned very quickly that even if this truth is the norm, we don’t want a campaign based on it. Everyone knows politics are what they are – just don’t be a jackass about it.

Back room stories of alleged visits to shady businesses don’t sway the population. Even a convicted fraudster in your staff doesn’t tend to be the weapon over-zealous pundits would want it to be. Look deep enough into the backgrounds of any group you will find something you don’t like and political parties are certainly no exception. They are large organizations and the voters are smart enough to know that the actions of one don’t necessarily represent all. Eventually a large number of smaller issues can build up but it’s only when the minor transgressions demonstrate a systematic issue with the party itself that an electorate will take any discernable action.

An Exciting Vision

Promoting fear of some calamity whether real or imagined only serves to rally the supporters you already have. Calling into question the “hidden agenda” of your opponent usually flops. In Canada, any personal attack is usually ignored. Pulling ancient quotes from YouTube, while fun doesn’t discredit any current policy statements effectively. Politics are fluid. What the media labels a “flip-flop” might be a genuine change in policy based on a new reality or in light of new information. I don’t trust a politician that speaks in absolutes.  There are certain moral and ethical exceptions but in terms of policy “never” is a dangerous word. Ignatieff learned that when he categorically ruled out the idea of a coalition. For all of the rhetoric, in the end only Conservatives feared a Liberal/NDP Coalition. Canada was likely fine with it. What voters did not like was his choice to not consider it.

What the NDP did right in the 2011 election was rise above the slop that was being slung and offered something new. Actually, just something that had not been seen in a long time. Jack Layton remained focused on his policies and his ideas. Whether a voter agreed with those ideas or not was not what made the campaign work. The story that Ignatieff had worked in the United States or Britain didn’t matter to Canadians. The debate over fighter jets didn’t matter. We need jets and they will be expensive – move on. What was important was not what New Democrats were against but what they were for. As much as the other parties wanted Canadians to believe that the NDP platform was based on fantasy, Layton was very clear on how the ideas were to be accomplished. It was about prioritizing and not about fixing everything overnight. Healthcare, education and the general wellbeing of Canadians. Positive messaging delivered by a trusted and dynamic individual. To be sure he got his legitimate shots in towards the other leaders but they were usually fact based and never about the opponents’ personalities.

I sincerely hope that this will mark the end of American style mud-slinging in Canadian politics. It serves no legitimate purpose and has poisoned Parliament itself. It is time for all Honourable Members, all parties and all Canadians to limit political debate to real issues. The tabloid editorialists can continue pandering to the lowbrow tantrums of the angry. They are free to do so and I need a good laugh every once and a while. I prefer rational and stable forums for the sensible argument of political ideas.

Now that we have seen the example of what can be it is time to demand it of all politicians and their organizations. Hold them accountable for not only what they say but for how they behave in the House of Commons. If I want to hear partisan screaming matches I’ll go to a hockey game.