The Sausage Factory

with Dan Lett

Email Dan Lett

  • Time to mix things up

    So, I’m back from the floods in Fargo, the image of the boneless chicken wings at Buffalo Wild Wings stilled burned into my memory.
  • What journalists need?

    A recent column by the Globe and Mail's Lawrence Martin argues that what journalism needs is more "Jon Stewart outrage."
  • The depths of abject stupidity

    Today in Washington, the CEO of American Insurance Group, Edward Liddy, denounced $165 million in executive bonuses paid out last weekend to current and former employees, while at the same time urging Congress not to ask for the money to be repaid.
  • Striking a blow for the forces of revisionist history

    Pope Benedict XVI and Canada's minister of science and technology, Gary Goodyear, both did their part yesterday to roll back the clocks on the battle against HIV and AIDS and evolution.
  • Saving downtown once more

    Developers say they need more government money to build and renovate downtown. It's not a new idea, so why haven't we made progresss?
  • Dozing while Rome burns

    The gravity of the economic crisis has not yet convinced politicians on both sides of the border to abandon bad political habits.
  • The death of newspapers

    I had occasion recently to construct a power point presentation for an address to some fabulous folks at Creative Retirement Manitoba. The first part of the PPT dealt with the state of traditional media, in particular the threat to newspapers from declining circulation and advertising, and the challenge of competing in the bold on-line world. Assembling the slides was informative, even for me, as it caused me to think more about the state of my own profession than I had previously.
  • Okay, this is going to hurt....

    The alternative media debates credibility, integrity and the qualifications for membership.
  • A good offence is a good offence.....

    The Tories are gearing up the attack ads again to slow the growing popularity of new Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. That's all good and fine, but when are they going to do something to make themselves more appealing?
  • Back to our regularly scheduled program

    Whoa, what are we going to do for an encore?
  • There goes my lunch....

    Losing ground, gaining ground, losing ground again? If you remember that the most important thing is not the number, but the trend, then the Tories look as if they could be backing over the finish line of Tuesday's election.
  • Hold on, it's going to be a bumpy ride

    Just when the trending seemed to spell doom for the Conservatives, a ray of hope?Nanos and Harris/Decima, the pollsters IMHO who have been the most responsive to changes in trending, are both reporting the Tories have stabilized and are building some of their lead back.Remember, from this point on, the actual numbers mean less than the trend. Up, down or sideways will give average folks a chance of figuring out which party has momentum. Recent voter intention surveys have shown that a gross majority of people who have indicated a willingness to vote for one of the four main national parties are about 75 per cent sure they will vote for that party. The undecided is also shrinking, to some extent. What that means is that over the weekend, over the turkey, people will make their decision on who to vote for. That's a lot of pressure.Although the Tories seem to be rebounding from their swoon, there is one more variable that could end up deciding this thing: Voter turnout.The only indication we have to predict the number of people who will case a vote is the advance polls. About 1.4 million Canadians voted in advance polls, down from 1.5 million in 2006 when voter turnout was rather robust. Given that about 10 per cent of the electorate vote in advance polls, these early birds are usually a good indication of overall turnout. It's going to be down. A combination of election fatigue, Thanksgiving holiday distractions, and white-knuckle terror over the market meltdown will likely keep a lot of people home. The question now is, who is hurt by that?Could be the Tories, given that they needed strong turnout to win a minority. Remember that a surge in voting in Winnipeg South took MP Rod Bruinooge to victory over Liberal MP Reg Alcock. Lower turnout could hurt the drive to a majority.Could be the Liberals, given that they really need the Anybody but Harper forces to come out in force, and vote strategically, to slow the rebounding momentum the Tories are hinting they have now.NDP or Greens? Hard to say if they would be affected much at all. I'm not sure anyone thought there was a scenario under which hundreds of thousands of Green supporters were going to show up, people who didn't vote before, to carry them to victory in a handful of seats. But you never know.The only certainty? On election night, when the result is no longer in doubt, we'll all be scratching our heads and saying, 'Wow, I didn't see that coming.'-30-
  • One of these things is not like the other...

    Wow, a week after Nanos stunned everyone with results that showed a tightening race, all the other pollsters have drifted to the same conclusion.Well, almost all the pollsters.Over at Ekos, they're still showing an 11-point Tory lead. Their latest poll has the Tories at 35, followed by the Liberals at 24 and the NDP hot on their heels with 20.The pack, led by Nanos, and the lone straggler, Ekos, can't both be right. Can they?-30-
  • No, nay, never a deficit. Minister Jim Flaherty, trying desperately to stop a late campaign swoon by the Conservatives, gives a speech in Toronto in which he promises there will never be a deficit under his watch, no matter how gross things get with the world economic slump."Were sure not going to run a deficit," Flaherty said. "We will maintain a surplus in Canada and we will continue to pay down the debt."This is interesting strategy from the current and hopes-to-be-future finance minister. In the face of an impending recession that is expected to be so severe the 'D' word is being thrown around, Flaherty promises above all else to run a surplus and pay down the public debt. I'm wondering if he's calculated the cost of that kind of economic strategy.I think most reasonable economists would probably point out that what you spend the money on has a lot to do with how worthy a deficit is. In past eras, spending on government ran out of control for the sake of spending. Then, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, governments collectively brought spending under control. And (for the most part) surpluses have reigned supreme every since. That is a gross simplification of course, but you get the idea.Now, we're faced with the first real economic crisis since that belt-tightening exercise from the 1990s.In Ontario, as the Sausage Factory has noted before, Flaherty was part of a Tory government that cut income taxes and never ran a surplus. In that case, the tax cuts were more important than a deficit. This time around, deficits are no longer in fashion, which means tax cuts are a thing of the past as well.There should be some concern about a finance minister who pledges to avoid deficits AT ALL COSTS while maintaining debt payments regardless of the economic conditions. The Liberals, in a previous era, decided that ending deficits were more important than spending on health, social services and education. The Libs made that choice, and now students of political history get to debate the relative merits of that approach.I ask this question for the purpose of generating a response, not to be rhetorical: We've just gone through a period of restoration of federal transfer payments that were cut in the 1990s; do Canadians want spending on key government programs to be cut again to keep the government balance sheet in surplus during the next few years?What I find increasingly interesting is how no one on the federal campaign trail will talk about the two-point cut to the GST and how it figures into what is happening now. It was opposed by many in 2005-06 when Harper first pitched it during the last federal election. Economists from the left and right warned of the imprudence of cutting a consumption tax. Certainly, it is hard to believe Flaherty and the Conservatives would have cut the GST if they saw the magnitude of the sub-prime meltdown coming. But then again, government budgeting is about contingencies and unforeseen threats. It may have been unreasonable for anyone to predict the trouble we're in now, but the simple fact of the matter is that Flaherty failed miserably to leave himself wiggle room against an economic crisis.Tax cutting advocates often push for tax cuts while at the same time threatening governments who even think about running deficits. I think we're seeing now that deficits and tax cuts are indelibly linked, and should be viewed as the ying and yang of government economic policy. The Tories have drastically cut sales taxes (at least from a revenue point of view) but did nothing to curb government spending in an equal amount. That did not bring about the economic crisis, but it's not helping us deal with it, either.-30-
  • duh-duh-dud-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh....POLL UPDATE

    Wow, what a difference a few hours make. The Tory freefall is confirmed.Nanos for October 7 has it 34 Tories, 31 Liberals, 18 NDP.Decima/Harris for October 7 has it 31 Tories, 26 Liberals, 21 NDP.Ontario and Quebec apparently have turned against the Harper Conservatives. This is going to be one heckuva last week on the campaign trail.-30-
  • Is Nanos "The Man" again?

    Well, it didn't take long to figure out who was out in front of the trend.Both Decima/Harris and Ekos reported poll results today that show significant tightening in the federal election campaign. This, almost five days after Nanos first reported the split between the front-running Tories and second-place Liberals had shrunk considerably.Those who found yesterday's blog will remember that last Friday, Nanos shocked everyone with a poll that showed the Tories at 35 and the Libs at 30. That split has held firm now, with the most recent Nanos results at 34-29.A Decima/Harris poll for the Canadian Press released yesterday shows the Tories with 32, the Libs at 25 and the NDP not far behind at 21 per cent.Ekos is out today with a poll that shows the Tories at 33, the Liberals at 26 and the NDP at 19 per cent.The pollsters are finding the largest spread now to be about seven points. That is down in one week from a high spread of 15 points. If your a Tory strategist, you're starting to reach for the parachutes.What happened? A series of dumb-ass blunders (the plagarism debacle chief among them) and a severe economic downturn, combined with the televised debates, seems to have dealt Harper a significant blow. All this makes the prime minister's decision to call an election now seem, well, questionable. How good is October 2009 looking for the Tories?-30-
  • What the Free Press is going on with the polls?

    I can't get through a morning until I have tracked down every last poll result available that morning. It's not that I think we can predict yet what will happen October 14. I just love to see the fluctuations and the contrast between polls.Last week, I was shocked to see Nanos report Tories at 35 per cent and (here's the shocking part) Liberals at 30 per cent. Nanos was certainly the only poll to report Liberal fortunes at that level. Most other polls had the Libs in the mid to low 20s, with the NDP close on their heels. But that wasn't the oddest thing about the Nanos poll. The oddest thing was that hardly anybody acknowledged the poll.I couldn't find much reporting on this poll result. It was like it never happened. Instead, polls from other pollsters continued to show the Liberals lagging and the Tories with an 11 to 15-point lead.The next two Nanos polls didn't stray too much from their theory that this is a much tighter race. Over the weekend, Nanos reported Tories 35, Libs 28. And then today, we get big-time media coverage of the latest Nanos sampling, its Tories 34, Liberals 30, the smallest gap reported by any polling company. (Check out the entire Nanos archive here.)Nanos is certainly THE pollster to watch if you listen to political strategists. But how can we resolve the difference between Nanos and all the other polling companies, which consistently report a double-digit spread between the Conservatives and Tories?One thing is that there is much more variance between the pollsters than they probably want to acknowledge. These bar graphs produced by the seat-projectionists at Wilfred Laurier show in graphic terms (no doubt) the difference in the results from the differing polling companies in 2008 right up to the dropping of the writ. The pollsters are consistently inconsistent.There are always differences in questions and methodology. And then there is the analysis and weighting that goes on by the pollsters themselves. The responses are just raw data; it takes a creative hand to forge a picture of public opinion out of the raw data.Watch closely this week to see if Nanos drops back on its bold picture of a neck-and-neck race, or the other polling companies shift more to the Nanos view of the world.-30-
  • Better late than never, debate reaction

    I didn't get a lot of responses to last week's Twitter Debate adventure (124 entries in two hours!) but what I did get was very eloquent.Pam Tonsaker, a regular reader and email correspondent, was concerned about the new format of the debates, including the lack of opening and closing statements, and the amount of overtalking that was going on with the candidates sitting around a table instead of behind podiums:As stated earlier, this debate did not tell me how our future PM will run the country months from now. With having to defend himself almost continually, I have no more of clear idea than before this debate began. I would have liked to have closing remarks from all of the leaders for next time, at least they then could comment without being interrupted.Another reader, Laura P, was also somewhat turned off by the tone of the debate:It seemed like Harper was on trial. The other party leaders didn't have much to say for themselves, rudely interrupted all the time, it was all attack, attack... other parties. The usual Canadian political drama.And... a few of them need to learn English so the majority of Canada can understand what they're saying.I switched over to the US debate, it was much more what an election debate should be like.Marjorie Jaman has a well-organized response to the debate, listing a number of points:a) I wish I would have been able to wipe that constant, staged smile off Harper's face. Poker face with a smile. Smug as ever. Calm, cool and collected every minute the the program.b) May gave easy-to-understand responses that were to the point. She appears to know her facts and pesents them well. Even though the Greens could never hope to form a government, having a few Green members in Parliament would keep some of those guys who fudge their comments in place.c) Layton, as usual, played the aboriginal card. The "I'm your buddy and I will speak up for you" stuff is a bit stale. To me he is "Jack the Jackass".d) Unfortunately Dion was very difficult to understand. I found it difficult to follow what he was saying -- even though I generally do not have trouble with accents. I believe this is a commonly stated problem, so I cannot understand why he has not taken English pronunciation lessons so he can be more clearly understood. I do believe he is intelligent and sincere. However he is unable to get that message across because when he speaks he sound like Eliza Doolittle with a mouthful of marbles. How unfortunate!.The good folks over at Policy Frog had a brief but hard-hitting analysis:While I'm sure the party faithful will all be spinning you that their guy "won" the debate, in reality the only person to actually pick up votes tonight was Elizabeth May. Coming into this, she's the one who Canadians knew the least about, and she presented herself and her party very well. I think all the leaders did a reasonable job, but I'd give the nod to her.Last but not least, I'm pleased to pass on some of Luc Lewandoski's at-first-blush reaction. Luc is one of the best blogger analysts out there, and I was very pleased to have receive some of his first impressions:The format made for enjoyable debate, informative conversation and overall telling glimpses into the personalities of our leaders. Been writing on another message board that we should do these twice a year (Sunday of Labour Day before the fall session and during budget time) and Canadians would watch, learn and like. WE'd have a better understanding of our leader's positions and their motives.For example, tonight I was once again reminded that the Gilles/Jack/Elizabeth economic plans would literally kill Canadian economic growth. It must be nice to be able to pander like that and never have to make tough choices. Seriously. (The Macleans group posts also picked up on this.)Dion was okay but nothing special. Does what I figure which is saves Anita locally (though Simard is still dead liberal walking). Not enough to help John upset Rod.Harper has to hold his own in this type of thing and he managed without losing his temper. That's a win.Liz May was a strong debater, but filleting Harper with more ease than the others is not grounds enough for inclusion. She brought very little "new" or "different" positions to the table. (Her most independent positions was on private health care and that was not where moderate Canadians are. Ditto NAFTA.)Here's to having more debates. I think a series of three English-language debates, held in different cities, would do the ticket. But I think it would be a tough sell unless the networks threatened to hold them anyway with empty chairs if necessary.-30-
  • Debate points

    Travel schedules and a lack of wifi has delayed a post about last night's debate, and reaction from those readers who took in my Twitter maiden flight last night. I got some great reaction, the best of which will be posted here later today. If you'd like to drop in a few comments about the debate, either via post here or email, please do. I'd like to hear from as many of you as possible.-30
  • Just so you don't think I don't respect people smarter than me

    My new favourite blog, Worthwhile Canadian Initiative has a great summary of why he thinks Canada will NOT experience a financial meltdown. It is a very compelling argument, with lots of great links.Everything this blog is not. Sigh.-30-

About Dan Lett

Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school.

Despite the fact that he’s originally from Toronto and has a fatal attraction to the Maple Leafs, Winnipeggers let him stay.

In the following years, he has worked at bureaus covering every level of government – from city hall to the national bureau in Ottawa.

He has had bricks thrown at him in riots following the 1995 Quebec referendum, wrote stories that helped in part to free three wrongly convicted men, met Fidel Castro, interviewed three Philippine presidents, crossed several borders in Africa illegally, chased Somali pirates in a Canadian warship and had several guns pointed at him.

In other words, he’s had every experience a journalist could even hope for. He has also been fortunate enough to be a two-time nominee for a National Newspaper Award, winning in 2003 for investigations.

Other awards include the B’Nai Brith National Human Rights Media Award and nominee for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.

Now firmly rooted in Winnipeg, Dan visits Toronto often but no longer pines to live there.


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