The Green Paradox

On the topic of greenhouse gases (GHGs), I think that the Conservatives will have more success cutting Canada’s output of them than the Liberals ever did. This is because swing voters are skeptical that the government will accomplish GHG reduction and therefore the Tories have something significant to prove. In a similar sense, we can look at the Liberals and their elimination of the deficit. As in that case, the ruling party is receiving pressure from the other side of the spectrum and the swing voter is skeptical of their abilities on the particular issue. This provides incentive as these voters and the pendulum swing between parties causing government turnover.

For some reason, people are more likely to believe that parties on the left will be more proficient at GHG reductions. Certainly, the record doesn’t indicate this. I’d like to show that this reasoning and the result are paradoxical.

On the environment, left-wing parties can take this sort of thinking for granted and say green things and do much of nothing. Conversely, voters don’t see the Conservative Party as the natural choice to progress on the issue and working uphill, the Conservatives are framed as a party with a lot to prove on their ability to reduce GHGs. This provides incentive to act instead of taking voter prejudices for granted as Liberals do on this particular issue. If the environment is framed as the number one issue, the Conservatives don’t have the convenience of solely paying lip service.

Conservatives have already secured the voters that favour a tax-cutting government. What they will act upon lies where they have to extend themselves to get non-traditional votes. Similarly, Liberals have more of a secure hold on environmental voters as Canadians believe the party to more of a regulating party than their Conservative opponents.

Dion’s strategy of making the environment an issue right from the start of his leadership campaign is challenging Harper to be more flexible and as a result, he is able to grab a few extra votes. Dion is handing the incumbent an opportunity to show agility over an extended period of time. Of course, it will be difficult for Mr. Harper to show real progress on GHG reductions as the current economy has quite a lot of inertia against the trend of overall GHG reduction. However, if the PM can show sincere policy that he’s put in place to get the job done over a realistic period of time, he should be able to neutralize Dion and show the voter than he’s acting in good faith on the issue.

Strategically, Dion could have made the environment a smaller issue (and one of many others) to prompt little action from the government to act on GHGs. Subsequently, he could have fired on all hybrid cylinders during an election to contrast how Canada could be different under his carbon-cutting direction (even if it is all talk).

Some say that it was the Reform party that prompted Paul Martin to balance the budget. Perhaps now it’ll be Dion that prompts Harper to succeed on the environment. And remember, on the budget, only Martin got credit.

Does the same logic apply with the Conservative party and tax-cutting? Specifically that voters expect Conservatives to be the party of tax relief and reduced spending? I believe that this reasoning does apply to the Tories, but only to a certain extent. People expect the Conservatives to cut taxes and to a degree, empty talk and promises will go far to satiate the voters. However, over an extended period of time, as we’ve seen, the conservative movement is likely to tear apart the Conservative Party if it doesn’t see its ideological agenda fulfilled. While the Liberals faced pressure from Reform to put the government’s books in order, Conservatives face not only opposition pressure but pressure from within to keep it’s course. It will be interesting to see how Conservative party addresses the environmental issues while balancing the prospect of electoral defeat with that of devolution from within. Or can it find a common path that spares it from both?

Bits and pieces

  • The Prime Minister’s website is now featuring kitten adoption profiles. We get it… not scary, ok?
  • Dollar rises above $0.965US, the highest since February 1977.
  • Jason Cherniak will not defend what he has not read, nor condemn it, but that won’t stop him from giving an opinion, thankfully.
  • Steve Janke is tracking Stephane Dion’s gaffe on Chinese-Canadian political history
  • Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition accuses Her Majesty’s Government and Defense Minister of propagandizing a military conflict. “Propaganda” is not exactly a reserved word as people have thrown it around at their political opponents on a variety of topics. However to juxtapose “propaganda” with our government on military/war related matters? If you had heard that an opposition party in a foreign country had accused their government of military propaganda, what would you think? Let’s be more responsible shall we?
  • Probably not the best of photo-ops for Republican Mitt Romney. Again, an obvious problem of juxtaposition concerning the question of loyalties. Whether it’s Canadian Liberals accusing the government of military propaganda, or a Republican candidate for president posing with a sign that suggests that Democrat opponents are as undesirable as Osama bin Laden, we ought to raise the level of debate so that we don’t blur the lines between the opponents who are working for a better country (but in a different party) and enemies that would destroy it.

Announcing the Blogging Tories Newspaper Viewer

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on a bit of a complex media research tool and web project that I’ve dubbed the “Newspaper Viewer”. Using the application, one is able to view some of Canada’s most popular broadsheet and tabloid newspaper front pages from just over the past year when I started to collect them.

In June of 2006, I wrote a web script that collected PDF files of about 15 newspaper covers per day. I let the script run automatically each day since that time and I’ve accumulated over 3 GBs of PDFs on my server! These files weren’t browsable in any convenient form and without purpose — beyond my own general interest in having a stock of these files — they were becoming a burden on my server which hosts this blog.

Like any web designer amazed by the presentation abilities of Macromedia (now Adobe) Flash, I’ve poked around the application since its early versions. However, up until this time I’ve never really been confident enough in Flash to publish anything substantive. That is, until I was faced with an idea to take this very visual collection of files and present it in a complimentarily visual way. I transfered the gigabytes of files from this server to my more permissive btblogs.ca server and got to work on the project after buying a book on Flash and its underlying object-oriented language, Actionscript. I also recommend subscribing to the video tutorials at Lynda.com

This Newspaper Viewer is the product of that initial script that I wrote over a year ago and the result of my clumsy climbing of the Flash learning curve over the past few weeks. I believe that this is the only archive of its kind available online and I hope that you enjoy browsing through this collection.

There are two ways that you can sort through the database. On the right, a dropdown box contains dates from June 5th to the present day. By selecting a date from this dropdown, you can view the newspapers from that day. Try browsing today’s newspapers or view how the various newspapers differ in covering a certain event, such as the Toronto 17 (June 5th, 2006), the Dion leadership victory (December 3rd and 4th, 2006), the Virgina Tech shootings (April 17th, 2007) or the Conrad Black verdict (July 14th, 2007). The other dropdown menu contains a way to view each newspaper by month. Thus, you can see a monthly spread of each newspaper.

When flipping through the newspaper archive, if you double-click on a particular paper, it will load the original PDF of that cover. I recommend trying this because some of these covers come in beautiful detail and those that appreciate design and layout will want to take a closer look.

I also designed this application as a media monitoring/research tool. A significant number of Canadians get their news from Canadian newspapers and some researchers may find it worthwhile to track the evolution of a story as expressed to Calgarians via the Herald, or to Torontonians via the Sun, to give two examples. To illustrate another example of this tool’s use, one might find it interesting to see how the National Post was covering the Conrad Black trial in comparison to other newspapers. Further, some believe that papers cheer for political parties during elections. It may be interesting to see if this is true by tracking Globe and Mail or Sun media headlines over the course of a writ period. A lot of power resides in news media as reporters, editors and columnists are able to influence millions of readers by a carefully crafted headline or by highlighting/burying scandalous details above/below the fold. As Canadians, we ought to be savvy media consumers in order to be informed participants in our democracy. Hopefully, as a comparative tool, this Newspaper Viewer application will help contribute.

I do hope that you enjoy this project. I would appreciate any comments, suggestions, bug reports via email or in the comments section below.

Click here to launch the Newspaper Viewer

David Onley is Ontario’s new Lieutenant-Governor

An inspirational choice:

Ontario’s incoming lieutenant-governor said Tuesday he will play an “activist” role over the next five years aimed at improving the lives of people who, like him, live with physical disabilities.

Stricken with polio when he was three, Onley grew up to become one of Canada’s first on-air personalities with a physical disability when he joined CityTV in Toronto in 1984 as a science and weather reporter.

In his long career with the station, he has also been an education reporter, a science and technology reporter, news anchor and producer.

Outside of his journalistic endeavors, Onley has been high-profile advocate for people with disabilities

Some may look at this appointment and shrug as another media personality is named to another ceremonial role. However, the more I’ve thought about these sorts of appointments, the more that the nominations of people such as Clarkson, Jean, and now Onley make sense.

These roles haven’t any real power and they are largely ceremonial, meaning the most important parts of the job description are to visible, a good speaker and yes, telegenic. Onley is also a highly accomplished Canadian in his own right and Ontario will draw upon his professional talents in his new job.

The other types who may fit well in these sorts of roles are sports personalities, actors, and maybe former politicians. Since most sports stars can barely utter that there’s a “home… run… deal… at… Bob’s… Chev… olds” with any authority, that leaves actors, former politicians, and media personalities. Former politicians bring partisan baggage to a role that is supposed to represent Canada’s apolitical head of state, our queen. Actors can deliver a good speech, however, media personalities can do this and bring a professional credibility to the job that most can appreciate.

As said, these roles are purely ceremonial and the technical responsibility of these people are to represent the Queen in Canada. We are long past being ruled by a monarch, thus these positions simply afford an opportunity to put a good face – a face that can deliver a speech, with credibility and on television – forward to represent Canada.

Prime Minister Harper made the appointment and Dalton’s man Kinsella seems to appreciate the decision. Therefore, this shouldn’t make for any rough political waters.

UPDATE: Some readers have, of course, pointed out the constitutional importance of GGs and LGs! I would respond by saying that advice and recommendations on constitutional matters are never in short supply to these people when such advice is needed for such a situation. Presumably and hopefully, all GGs and LGs make those decisions under much advisement. Further, this also speaks to the appropriateness of journalists to take up the role as they are generally more versed in political matters than most people.

A constitutional scholar on the other hand may not be able to fulfill the de facto responsibilities of these figures because while they may be versed in the legal function of their role, they may not be ideal for lacking the qualities I outline above.

Thoughts about Live Earth

Yesterday, on seven stages around the world over 1 million people attended a mega-concert event geared to raise awareness on the issue of climate change or the “climate crisis” as billed by event organizers.

News reports claim that the event had a reach to about 2 billion television watchers around the world.

Despite the disputed logic of the cause by some, it was heartening to see so many people interested in attending a rally for what they truly believe to be a good cause. It is good to know that there is a lot of positive energy out there ready to be channeled to fight for good causes whatever they may be.

However, it is unfortunate that these concerts do not do much to raise “awareness”; often participants of such mega-concerts are the most aware of these issues. I’m not sure how many people tuned in and said “Global… warming? Really? Thank goodness for John Mayer or else I would have never known”. On a more useful note, Billy Corgan made me aware that his new Smashing Pumpkins CD is about to be released. Thanks Billy.

Despite the good intentions of these mega-concerts, the problems that they purport to address still exist and for the most part, have not really advanced along a good track. Live Aid, and most recently, Live 8 meant to raise “awareness” of poverty in Africa. Despite the collective efforts of our mothers (“eat your vegetables, there are children starving in Africa”) and the calling upon the power of rock to solve the world’s ills, poverty still exists in Africa.

Often, the logic behind such efforts is paradoxical. Dumping money and aid on Africa, according to some economists, is exacerbating the problem there. Further, the music industry is the vanguard of consumerism. How does flying Madonna’s 100 member entourage from New York to London on her private jet to express a message of conservation ring true to anyone? Media is to be consumed and the music industry cranks out a lot of plastic, puts a lot of rubber on the road (and CO2 in the air) while musicians tour, and demands terawatts of electricity to power countless speakers and to illuminate hundreds of millions of TV screens.

As for the Live Earth mega-concert, the worst moment was at Giants stadium in New Jersey (billed as New York), when Petra Nemcova, the supermodel that survived the Asian tsunami took the stage to help raise awareness about our “climate in crisis”. I would never shrug aside Ms. Nemcova’s harrowing ordeal, however, no serious scientist would ever link that particular tsunami with climate change as the 2004 tsunami was caused by an earthquake, not by CO2. It is unfortunate that the tragedy of that event would be used erroneously to advance such a debatable call to action on a debatable cause.

There were a few ironic moments including rap superstar Ludacris telling the audience (in song) that “if you ain’t got no money [sic], take your broke ass home”. Of course, this lyric is a part of a song that he sings on with Fergie (of Black Eyed Peas fame) which also includes the songstress singing “We [sic] flyin’ first class / Up in the sky / Poppin’ champagne / Livin’ my life / In the fast lane / And I wont change / By the Glamorous, oh the flossy flossy”. The video pictures Fergie flying in a private jet, ironically the vehicle of choice of some of the Live Earth performers. Irony is being told by some of this world’s greatest CO2 producers to cut our consumption. Ludacris’ other credits include a starring role in 2 Fast 2 Furious. Was it a movie about plug-in hybrid cars? Not likely. The film has inspired a generation of nitrous-infused street racers. Oh well, I’m sure he got some carbon credits in his gift basket to help offset the guilt. Ludacris! [sic]

Finally, if the intent of the mega-concert was to be a massive information campaign to finally bring everyone, united, onside to fight climate change, why the divisive elements? Melissa Ethridge chastised Bush’s ‘with us or the terrorists’ refrain by saying that in addressing the world’s problems that there is no “us and them”. She proceeded to drive a wedge between left and right by calling both Nixon and the current Republican president “criminals”. In fact, Ethridge’s performance was more of an anti-war screed than a call to unite against climate change. Macy Gray’s appearance also sought to alienate a significant proportion of the American population by having her stage performers wear anti-Bush and anti-Cheney t-shirts. The concert became an appeal to the left and had the effect of preaching to the choir while it did little to reach out to what should have been its intended targets: the skeptics on the right.

Were you one of the “2 billion” that tuned into the Live Earth concerts? What are your thoughts? If Al Gore runs for president (and wins) will we be fighting a costly war on warming AND a war of terror? Will Gore have any better luck bringing China and India into the Coalition of the Cooling? Will you be buying the new Smashing Pumpkins album when it comes out on July 10th? Consume, but don’t consume!

An experiment with unintended results

The CBC wrapped up their Facebook initiative on Canada Day. The Great Canadian Wish certainly provided some unintended consequences, yet it teaches us some truths about social media and its participants.

As an aside, the next time an NDPer boasts that Tommy Douglas is The Greatest Canadian based on the shaky authority of a CBC populist initiative, show them this:

Poor CBC! The only wish that would have made them cringe harder would have been if “Privatize the CBC” had beaten out the rest.

The fate of the CBC isn’t as much of a divisive issue as that of abortion to be sure and that’s where we draw our first conclusion on why the public broadcaster got the results that it did.

Polarizing issues will drive people to mobilize. Frankly, it’s been an effective tool used by the Liberals during the latest rounds of electoral combat. Going nuclear on the Conservative Party meant referencing abortion during the last desperate days of the writ period.

Secondly, anti-abortion activists mobilized quickly and early. They also had the advantage of not representing the status quo; if abortions were illegal, you can bet that the pro-choice wish would have had more traction as it would have indicated a desire for change. The very concept of change is more mobilizing because it is natural to take the status quo for granted. Indeed, the issue of abortion is a real and emotional one for people on both sides of the debate.

CBC also touched on a particular rationale for the presence of the the highly contentious issue: forum. Since the topic of abortion has been one that hasn’t been polled or discussed in any real public sense for years (CBC illustrates this in its report above using Environics as an example), advocates against the practice felt that the Facebook group represented a “back-door” of sorts to bring it front-row-centre on a highly visible stage, the CBC. Are more Canadians on Facebook pro-life rather than pro-choice?

Not necessarily.

Since reproductive choice / access to abortion is the norm in this country, the pro-choice advocates have had the advantage (and in this contest, the disadvantage) of arguing from a comfortable, mainstream position. The most significant motivating factor for pro-choice advocates only came into action when it became apparent that their pro-life foes might actually pull off an upset. The pro-lifers were primarily motivated by the issue, while the pro-choicers were too comforted and slowed by the mainstream acceptance of their position, and were only motivated when that position came under threat. Where the pro-lifers sought to act on the issue, the pro-choicers found their strength in reacting. Since acting comes before reacting, acting had a head-start.

There are parallels, of course, to real life politicking that we can draw from the Facebook/CBC wish initiative. As, I’ve mentioned, emotional issues mobilize support and have been used by parties to get out the vote. The Liberal line was “we may have had some ethics problems in Quebec, but have you heard what the Conservatives want to do to your rights?” Since abortion isn’t actually an issue on the Conservative radar, Conservatives have difficulty appealing to emotion. “Rights” are compelling issues and the Conservatives would be wise to determine where they can successfully leverage their strengths in that domain (Rights for Afghani women and children is compelling). Status quo versus change is also a significant factor as the desire for latter can be a stronger motivator than protecting the former (for Conservatives and Canadians, economic freedom is a compelling right, however, it is the relative status quo). People take the status quo for granted and may only become motivated when a real threat is perceived. Often, these issues may come too late during an election for the reacting party.

Certainly, the CBC experiment had some unintended consequences (I’m sure that they’re thanking their lucky stars that they didn’t commit to making this an 8-part mini-series starring George Strombolopolous), however, I feel that it highlighted some very interesting characteristics of human nature, politics, and evolving social media networks. I wonder if other experiments that test human nature can be conceived and then realized on Facebook?

As an addendum, as a Conservative partisan I was somewhat worried that the prominence of abortion as an issue would have instigated a renewed negative focus on the Conservative Party regarding the topic. Kudos to the CBC for including the clip of Stephen Harper in this report on the CBC/Facebook wish:

UPDATE: Looks like the comments section has erupted into a pro-life vs. pro-choice debate. Consider that the post is actually about human behaviour as it relates to the motivating factors on social networks as a potential snapshot of the real-life world of political mobilization.