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Local Grits gear up for leadership vote

This article was originally published in the Daily Gleaner on Thursday, October 4th, 2012, by STEPHEN LLEWELLYN. I’m re-posting it here for my own portfolio.

The excitment is mounting for hundreds of Fredericton Liberals as they get ready to chose a new leader at the end of this month.

The party’s new one-member-one vote selection process means casting a ballot will be as simple as clicking a computer mouse, activating a cellphone, making a phone call or mailing a letter.

But it doesn’t mean the leadership convention in Moncton on Oct. 27 won’t attract a couple of thousand delegates with the usual hats, signs, music and political speeches, say local riding presidents.

“They’re excited after coming off of 2010,” said Mike Girard, president of the Liberal Fredericton-Fort Nashwaak Riding Association, about the mood of his members.

“To say it (the provincial election result) was a bit of a downer in the association is putting it mildly … But as the convention’s gotten closer, certainly my membership anyway is getting very excited.”

Girard also said there’s a sense of relief the leadership campaign is almost over.

“It’s been a long process,” he said.

“Usually there is a delegate format, and it is not a very long race … This one has been going on for almost two years. People are getting ready for it to be over and move forward into 2014.”

Running for the Liberal leadership are Moncton lawyer and former Graham government Health minister Mike Murphy, Moncton lawyer Brian Gallant and Belledune dairy farmer Nick Duivenvoorden.

The leadership convention is being held at the Moncton Casino.

Brent Melanson, president of the Liberal Fredericton-Lincoln Riding Association, said 19,000 Liberals provincewide have registered to vote.

“It really is huge,” he said.

“It is a testament to, I think, not only the three candidates, but also the renewal process which was started after the last election … Part of that renewal process wanted better communications.”

That led to the decision to move to a one-member-one-vote process, he said.

“There’s been some resonance within the province with respect to that,” said Melanson.

“There is that flexibility that you can vote from anywhere in the province electronically, by cell phone, by ballot.”

The deadline to sign up to vote for a new Liberal leader was Sept. 28.

Melanson said the convention will still have a sense of excitement.

“What I’m hearing within my riding is that a lot of people intend to go,” he said.

Allison Wrynn, president of the Liberal Fredericton-Nashwaaksis Riding Association, said there is a leadership buzz in his riding.

Some local riding members have backed off a little bit in terms of political activity since the big Tory election win two years ago, he said.

“There were some people who were on the list who were very enthusiastic for T.J. (Burke), who was our candidate last election,” said Wrynn.

“Since that time they said, ‘Well, we’re still going to vote Liberal, but we don’t know if we are that keen on participating (in the leadership convention)’ … That’s fine.”

Marty Mockler, president of the Liberal Fredericton-Silverwood Riding Association, said he isn’t sure how many people will be going from his riding to the convention because of the ability to vote from anywhere in the province.

“I think there is going to be a lot of that,” he said.

“But what it has done in Fredericton-Silverwood is that the people that have now joined the party seem to be very committed to working for the party … You can feel a different vibe in it. Before you had a lot of people who were members but they weren’t active.”

He said he expects about 2,000 Liberals to attend the convention in Moncton, and that’s still a good size.

Girard said opening up the voting process was the right thing to do.

“Not everyone can get there, especially if you are from the north,” he said.

“There will definitely be a lot of buzz on the floor.”

Voting on the web is especially attractive to younger riding members, said Girard.

“One of the things I’m hoping we’ll see out of this is that … the campuses will be organized and we’ll see a lot of youth vote,” he said.

Rising Cost of New Brunswick Tuition

This blog was originally published in Wednesday’s Daily Gleaner. I’m posting here for my own portfolio and for those who do not have access to Brunswick News.

Tories are completely out of touch with university students’ needs.

Re: Student debt

Bravo to UNB and STU student unions for your decision to scrap the annual premier’s message that graces the front of your student agendas, in favor of taking the Alward government to task on tuition fees.

Education is the backbone of today’s global economy, an economy that New Brunswick and its citizens are a part of. An educated citizenry propels economic development, it attracts employers, and it increases wages and government revenue.

As tuition costs get dangerously close to being unaffordable for many, it is painfully obvious that New Brunswick Progressive Conservatives are completely out of touch.

Between 1990 and 2007, tuition fee in New Brunswick increased 177 per cent, from $1,965 to $5,328. The last Liberal government legislated a tuition freeze that was removed by the Alward Tories in 2010, raising tuition by $200 in 2011 and another $175 for the 2012-2013 making for a tuition cost of $5,703 to attend one year of university.

While tuition fees increase, so do student debt levels, at the same time that 21st century jobs are passing New Brunswick by. The Alward government’s policy on tuition fees is not only wrong today, it is wrong for New Brunswick’s future.

Michael Girard

President

Fredericton Fort Nashwaak

Liberal Riding Association

Why GNB should reject a Crown transit corporation.

Acadian bus lines’ decision to cease operations in the Maritime Provinces has lead to a serious political debate about public transportation in our region, and in New Brunswick specifically. On the heels of this announcement many groups began calling for the establishment of a new Crown corporation to provide public transportation to our citizens.

Most recently, a guest column from Glen Carr, president and business agent of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1229,  appeared in Monday’s Daily Gleaner.  In the article Mr. Carr rightly points to a number of deficiencies with the current transit environment, however his conclusion that a public transit service paid for by taxpayers is the solution to the current turmoil, is ill conceived.

Public transportation is not a profitable enterprise and the government would begin losing significant revenue from Day One, revenue it does not have.

The Province of New Brunswick requires policies that will make our economy competitive in the 21st century. The most important areas on focus should be on developing economic policies that will allow the Government of New Brunswick to properly fund it’s education systems (early education to post-secondary/trades), assist in attracting top notch 21st century employers, and returning to balanced budgets.

These are the policy areas that will allow New Brunswick to prosper in the future. Unfortunately the current deficit situation will prevent New Brunswick from being able to fulfill these policy objectives in the short term. As such, any policies that would jeopardize the province’s ability to carry out these objectives in the long term should be rejected. A public transit corporation is that sort of policy.

A Political Landmine:

The decision made by Acadian bus lines puts the province and those people who rely on inter-city and inter-provincial bus service in an extremely difficult position.  Indeed, the decision to end services in November seems to have been motivated to put maximum pressure on New Brunswick politicians, specifically those representing David Alward’s Conservative government. The chosen date, right before the Christmas season, will cause significant outrage from students, their unions, and their parents. The general traveling public will also be more engaged during this time of year as it will significantly impact traveling over the holidays. Being close to Christmas, the added pressure of some 180 Acadian bus line workers being left unemployed will add to the voices and pressure to find a solution – with Acadian or without. The real impact on people’s lives, and the political fallout for the government will not be insignificant.

It is not just the needs of the traveling public that will be hurt. Many businesses rely on the courier service provided by Acadian bus lines. The courier service provides a vital mail service connecting rural communities with each other and the province’s urban centers.

The issue has sparked a conversation about inter-city and inter-provincial transportation in each of the affected Maritime Provinces.  In New Brunswick, the Tories have suggested reviewing the current regulations and making changes to permit more competition from smaller providers. I am not accustomed to agreeing with the Conservative Party, however on this issue I agree that the solution to this issue is found in reforming regulations to increase competition among private enterprise.

In my opinion the question that should be asked is this: does the establishment of a Crown corporation make sense given our financial state? In other words, it’s a question of priorities. When the province struggles to pay its debt, and fund its education system – a key to economic prosperity in the future – should the Government of New Brunswick add the cost of providing a transportation service?  Is the enormous cost of a Crown transportation company justified when we struggle to just barely fund services that will have long term, positive economic benefits to New Brunswick?

The Saskatchewan Transportation Company

Many proponents of a public transportation system have pointed to the STC as an example of a provincial Crown corporation providing transportation for New Brunswick to emulate.  Established in 1946 the STC is the longest operating and only Crown Corporation providing public, inter-city and  inter-provincial transportation in Canada. In its long history it has rarely made a profit, endured sustained periods of ridership decline, and has been impacted by a national industry trend away from government regulation.  The establishment of a Crown corporation is no small matter, and should not be entertained lightly.

A quick review of the STC’s annual reports from the past decade shows that the Crown Corp lost just over $7.5 million. Between 2001 and 2003 significant investments in capital infrastructure were required leaving annual losses of $1 million in 2001, $930,000 in 2002, and $2 million in 2003. Indeed the only year that the STC made a profit in the last decade was in 2010 when the company posted an operating profit of just $9000.00. Despite a 7.4% increase in ridership in 2011, an increase the STC President and CEO Shawn Grice noted has happened “very few times since the company’s origins in 1946, the STC still posted an operating loss of $299,000. To Mr. Carr’s point that part of Acadien’s issue is that they have not advertised in years, the STC has increased it’s advertising budgets, the result of which has been an increase in ridership but has done nothing to increase it’s profitability.

Providing public transportation in provinces with large rural populations spread over large geographies is not a profitable business. Acadian bus lines’ financial struggles are a case in point. Citing declining ridership and increased costs to operate rural routes is not unique to New Brunswick.  Faced with similar financial realities in Alberta, the government allowed Greyhound bus lines to stop servicing unprofitable rural routes as a solution. In 2006 the Liberal government in Quebec issued a report titled “Better Choices for Citizens: Quebec Public Transit Policy” which noted declining ridership in rural Quebec and vanishing public transportation links when routes became unprofitable – over 20 routes in 50 years.

Other Factors to Consider

Aside from questions of profitability there are other issues to consider. In general the history of Crown corporations is not one that inspires confidence. Crown corporations are not known for efficiency and often become the subject of political manipulation. New Brunswick’s own history with Crown Corporation underscores this reality as NB Power and NB Liquor become subject to political patronage at the executive level and below.  There is no reason to think a ‘NB Transit’ would be immune to this pattern.

A 2011 G8 report entitled “National Strategies on Public Transportation,” argues for the establishment of a national transit fund that would help financially sustain public and inter-provincial transportation links. The report does not advocate for government ownership of public transportation, favoring government regulation with private enterprise partnerships instead. Reviewing government owned transportation companies the report notes that:

” … private operators can help reduce spending on capital assets and human resources, lower costs as a result of competitive bidding, lower potential for labor unrest, and allow the use of existing operators’ knowledge of market demand, routing and scheduling.”

In other words, private enterprise is ideally suited to avoid the pitfalls that plague Crown corporations. We know from our own experience that the current regulations make it difficult, if not impossible for private enterprise to make a profit. There is no reason to think government will ever be able to make a transit corporation pay for its self. As a result I must conclude that it is irresponsible to pursue this policy.

Alternatives

As with any issue that arises in New Brunswick it is difficult to find alternative solutions. This particular issue is one that has the potential to be politically damaging to the Tories, however, their current approach is not unreasonable. New Brunswick cannot afford a Crown transit corporation and Acadian bus lines cannot make a profit. The regulations need to be changed. To that end I propose the following:

Short Term:

  • In the immediate short term the Government of New Brunswick should support regulation reform that will allow Acadian bus lines to stop servicing the majority of unprofitable, rural routes while maintaining service of the urban areas in the south and at least one route connecting Northern New Brunswick to Southern New Brunswick.
  • The Government of New Brunswick should consider removing the monopoly granted to Acadien buslines to service the Southern inter-city route (the only profitable route) opening it to competition.
  • Government of New Brunswick should encourage the establishment of smaller, private transportation operators to service rural routes.
  • The Government of New Brunswick could explore allowing municipalities to generate tax revenue dedicated to paying for satellite bus service. (This is a policy that has been put forward in Quebec).

Long term:

  • Announced in the short term, the Government of New Brunswick should study the current research related to a national transit fund in Canada. Such a fund would primarily be paid for by the creation of revenue streams by federal government with the provinces providing additional funding.
  • To date the national transit fund has primarily been concerned with providing funding for urban public transportation, however interested provincial governments with large rural communities and smaller urban centers could make a case for being able to spend national transit fund dollars to meet the unique needs of their citizens.

Conclusion

This position reflects my own conclusions based on research that I have conducted on my own. The idea of a public transit company is appealing to many, including myself, but it is financially irresponsible given our economic realities.

3 Ideas to Help Turn Your ‘Local Government’ into ‘Social Government’

One of my favorite television characters of all time is Ron Swanson from NBC’s Parks & Rec. A lot of people love Ron Swanson and for different reasons.

To most Ron Swanson is loved for being a ‘man’s man’ – he’s an expert whittler, a steak enthusiast, the creator of the Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness.

For those of us who have worked in public service Ron Swanson has been our boss, or at the very least a reasonable likeness. Ron Swanson is a middle-aged, middle manager in the local government of Pawnee, Indiana – he is averse to rocking the boat, doing any work, and has a general distaste for the public and local government.

Ron Swanson would not approve of the ideas in this blog. You should read it anyway!

A Participatory Medium for Participatory Government

Social media is a participatory medium. People tend to share what’s happening to them in real time; things that made them laugh, or maybe something that upset them.  People discuss everything on social media including their local government, and they expect that they will be heard.

How are local governments supposed to do that? Here are some foundational pieces you can start with.

Social Media Monitoring

People are talking about your local government and its services but how do you find these conversations? The first thing you need to do is select a ‘social media monitoring’ platform that will search the social web for targeted keywords. This will make sense of the chaos as the platform will only return conversations on social media that match your desired search criteria.

Whether you’re looking for citizen feedback on a proposed ordinance or you’re looking for citizens talking about municipal services, a social media monitoring platform will make that task more efficient and manageable.

Community Management

Someone will need to be responsible for monitoring social media, and depending on the size of your city you may want a team of people watching for these conversations. This group of people is often referred to in the social media industry as a “community team.”

Their function is to be the human(s) behind the brand. They seek to provide customer service, answer questions, and sometimes act as a gateway for information that needs to be answered by someone else in the organization.

A ‘community team’ makes your social media strategy flexibility to be both proactive and responsive!

Share, Share, Share

Governments produce a lot of reports on local issues. They are typically available for free in print format or online, but not always easy to obtain or find. Chances are your government department has boxes of reports in storage. If you ran a report on how often your reports are accessed online would you see that few people click on those reports?

Share them on social! Use platforms like Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ to share links to your reports and increase visibility. It’s much easier for someone to follow your department and click on a link than it is to go hunting on your website, or make time to go down to City Hall.

Turning ‘Local Government’ into ‘Social Government’

Jumping into social is a big deal. It requires a lot of forethought and a strategy to implement. The result may well lead to increased citizen engagement, so give it go!
This blog was originally authored by me and published here.

Election 2012: it’s still the economy, stupid

Guest blog by Hassan Arif

The current economic situation has made the economy a dominant concern in political discourse in western countries. The United States is no exception, with the economy being a dominant theme of the 2012 presidential election, and a key concern on the minds of voters.

Reality bites:

While the 2008 election was dominated by Obamamania, the 2012 Democratic presidential campaign feels more conventional, focused on the issues of jobs and economic management, with sharp attacks on Mitt Romney and the Republican ticket. The realities of governing have dampened Obamamania. These are realities made especially harsh by the American legislative system where there are divided branches of government and decentralized party discipline.

Nonetheless, one can still say there is that sense of hope and idealism, even if elevated expectations from 2008 have been tempered and brought down to earth, in terms of a president who has prioritized jobs, and prioritized helping Americans through a difficult recession.

The Obama administration oversaw the saving of the automobile industry – preserving jobs in a major sector of the American economy – passed a stimulus bill that has saved and created jobs, and passed a health care bill that extends and improves coverage for Americans.

Economic times are difficult, but the Obama administration played an important role in alleviating the worse of it, and in putting the country on the path to recovery, even if this recovery is a long and slow one, and even if initiatives such as President Obama’s jobs bill have been obstructed in Congress.

GOP still veering hard right.

Meanwhile, Republicans are driven by an increasingly harsh neo-conservative ideology pushed forward by the Tea Party movement. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has campaigned to repeal “Obamacare” – even though he implemented a similar program as Massachusetts governor – with lower and middle income Republican voters seemingly oblivious to the fact that this would represent a blow to them.

Mitt Romney at the time of President Obama’s “bailout” of the automobile industry penned a column entitled Let Detroit Go Bankrupt. This was no doubt meant to be a nod to laissez-faire neo-conservative ideology where there is an aversion to government intervention in the economy, even if it is to save jobs and save a major American industry.

Furthermore, the Congressional budget promoted by Mr. Romney’s vice presidential pick Paul Ryan entails a slashing of programs for the poor and the middle-class all the while giving tax breaks to the wealthy. Where youth and the middle-class are under siege and the poor increasingly left behind, policies promoted by Mr. Romney and Rep. Ryan would make lives worse for these people.

Economic policy: Pragmatism vs Ideology

The fundamental choice is not merely left or right, but of pragmatic and common sense policies by the Democrats based on the facts and realities of the American economy, versus a Republican economic policy bounded by ideological blinders. The Republicans are a party where scientific realities like climate change are denied, where the benefits of moving to the green economy are ignored, and where the benefits of government intervention are neglected.

There needs to be recognition of the important roles of the different components of the economy – the important role played by the federal government and federal economic intervention, as well as the importance of state and municipal initiatives along with the role of entrepreneurial innovation. Where conservative Republicans want to deny the benefit of virtually any (non-military) government intervention Democrats under President Obama recognize the importance of all of these components.

In a state like Vermont, the promotion and protection of local small businesses ensures that more money stays in the state, that there are greater avenues of upward mobility as more people can aspire to own their own businesses. There is an emphasis on sustainable urban planning, for example, in the city of Burlington – exemplified by the downtown Church Street which is open only to pedestrian activities – after a couple of successful experiments closing off the street to traffic in the early 1970s – and is located adjacent to a mall which emphasizes pedestrian level activity rather than being solely car-oriented, and which blends into the downtown streetscape.

This has contributed to a vibrant downtown – with street performers and local businesses that promote local culture – and a downtown that is busy and vibrant to the point of making Burlington seem like a much bigger city than its 200,000 metropolitan population. This is a draw for tourists, young professionals and innovative entrepreneurs.

Vermont is one of the most strongly Democratic voting states in the United States, and Burlington is a hotbed of progressive politics – Vermont’s socialist senator Bernie Sanders earlier in his political career was mayor of Burlington. Local initiatives and entrepreneurship, however, are hardly stifled.

Elections matter.

Contrary to Republican claims, progressive Democratic policies do not entail a takeover by the federal government, and they do not stifle state and local governments or entrepreneurship, but rather allow them to flourish. Conservatives cannot claim the mantle of sound economic and fiscal management as they have abdicated this in favour of a blinding neo-conservative ideology. Hopefully, pragmatic policies rather than ideology will win the day.

Are social media conversations driving voters to the Coalition Avenir Quebec?

For the last three weeks I have been keeping tabs on Quebec’s provincial election while monitoring conversation trends on social media. What party is getting the most mentions? What leader is sparking the most conversations? How are daily events impacting those conversations? What topics are people talking most about?

When compared to polling the social data raises some interesting questions; chief among them: to what extent is social chatter fueling the Coalition Avenir Quebec’s rise in the polls?

The campaign so far.

Quebec premier Jean Charest dropped the writ on July 26th after months of sometimes violent student protests over proposed tuition increases. The protests have forced the resignation of two education ministers, Line Beauchamp in May and her replacement, Michelle Courchesne, who announced in mid-July that she would not run in the next provincial election. Charest’s Bill 78, a law aimed at putting limitations on when and how students could protest the government, was denounced as Draconian by student protestors, the province’s opposition parties, labor unions, and Canadians outside Quebec.

Polls released just days before Charest called the election showed that his Liberal Party would find themselves in a tight race with the Parti Quebecois (PQ) but would still win a small majority government. Seat projections said the Liberals would win 60 seats and the PQ 55. The Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), in it’s first general elections since amalgamating with the former Action democratique du Quebec (ADQ) in January of this year, was expected to win eight seats.

Four days after the campaign launched polls showed that the PQ had overtaken the Liberals, moving into minority government territory. As of August 15th the PQ’s lead had moved into majority government territory. Naturally, the PQ’s stance on Quebec sovereignty emerged as a major theme in the race, however it has not proven to be detrimental their electoral prospects.

The real gains have been made by the CAQ. Despite low seat projections as the campaign began, CAQ leader Francois Legault opened a new front in the campaign against Charest’s Liberal Party when he announced his party’s star candidate: Jacques Duchesneau, who claimed that CAQ was the only party to “clean up” the province. Ducheneau had been appointed by premier Charest to investigate rampant corruption and collusion between the provincial government and the province’s construction industry in 2010. After submitting his report to the government Duchesneau leaked the report to the media for fear of the government burying it. The report turned out to be a quite damning.  Almost over night seat projections for the CAQ increased from eight to fourteen.

The Social Conversation.

Monitoring all mentions of the major political parties and their party hashtags in conjunction with all mentions of the #qc2012, #qcpol, #quepoli, and #polqc revealed the following conversation trends.

As noted above the mainstream media has been focused on the question of sovereignty as the Parti Quebecois moved into majority government territory in the polls. Quite natural but social conversations are less concerned with questions of sovereignty then they are about corruption, by a significant margin.

Sparked by the CAQ conversations related to corruption have dominated social media conversations.

Is social chatter impacting voter intentions in Quebec?

It’s impossible to link social chatter to voter intention, as I’ve written about previously, but it is clear that it has had a significant impact on social media. What is clear is that while the mainstream media is largely focused on the PQ’s march to a majority government and the Liberal Party’s downfall, social media users are receiving CAQ’s central campaign message and repeating it widely.

Politicos of all stripes will tell you that the opinions of friends and trusted sources of information generally have a more significant impact on voter intention then the messaging coming out of party war rooms. So while it may not be possible to link the CAQ’s rising political fortunes to social media conversations, it’s not so easy to simply dismiss it either.

Ryan Announcement Pushes Romney Social Media Mentions Ahead of Obama

This post was originally authored by me and published by Radian6.

On Saturday morning, the world awoke to the news that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney had chosen his vice presidential running mate, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. It was particularly interesting for me, as I had just published a blog on Friday looking at the social chatter among the rumored vice presidential candidates, of whom Paul Ryan led in social media mentions.

Data from this blog was picked up and used by Mashable.com. You can check out that article here.

Once announced, a vice-presidential candidate becomes the center of intense media focus and public debate, but what is the impact on social media? The answer: profound.

Ryan’s Social Profile Skyrockets

In my post, Wikipedia, Stephen Colbert Drive Romney VP Speculation on Social Media, I noted that out of the serious contenders for the vice-presidential nod, Paul Ryan received the largest jump in social media mentions – 6,121 mentions between August 6th and 9th, compared to just 1,342 mentions between August 2nd and 5th.

After being named Romney’s vice-presidential nominee, mentions of Paul Ryan skyrocketed to 167,808 mentions between August 11th and 14th.

In addition to social media mentions, OhMyGov.com reported that followers and fans on Ryan’s Twitter and Facebook page saw significant increases, reaching 274,000 followers on Twitter and 197,000 Facebook fans.

Vice-Presidential Nod Gives Big Boost to Romney Mentions

It’s clear that Saturday’s announcement had a major impact on Paul Ryan’s individual social media profile, but it had a more significant impact for Romney.  The announcement of Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate pushed mentions of Mitt Romney above those of Barack Obama for the first time in more then three months.

The lead was considerable. On August 11th, Romney mentions totaled 882,955, compared to 529,538 for President Obama. This was the first time Romney had taken such a large, single day lead in social conversations over Obama since the GOP primaries concluded.

Ryan will make or break Romney’s chances

Guest post: Hassan Arif

One can say that Mitt Romney’s pick of Wisconsin member of Congress Paul Ryan as the vice presidential candidate gave the Republican ticket authenticity. Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and progressives, have accused Mitt Romney of being phoney, of having no core convictions and of taking positions simply based on political expediency and opinion polls.

Mitt Romney was a moderate – even progressive – politician in his earlier incarnation in Massachusetts politics: first as a candidate for Senate in the 1990s, and then as Governor. However, in 2008 – during his first run for the presidency – he ran to the right of John McCain in an attempt to appeal to conservative Republicans. Mr. Romney has also run to the right in 2012, though he has placed more emphasis on economic management. Mr. Romney has also re-written history describing himself as a “severely conservative” Governor of Massachusetts.

Mr. Romney has shamelessly reneged on earlier positions as well. For example, on health care, Mr. Romney has been calling for the repeal of Barack Obama’s health care reforms (“Obamacare”) even though these reforms are based on the health care model implemented in Massachusetts when Mr. Romney himself was Governor. During his presidential run, Mr. Romney has had to run away from his own record as Massachusetts Governor, almost in essence running against himself.

This seeming lack of authenticity has led to muted enthusiasm for Mr. Romney among the conservative Republican base. During the Republican nomination, candidates from Rick Perry to Newt Gingrich to Rick Santorum to Herman Cain frequently took turns as front-runner in opinion polls as Republicans sought an “authentic” conservative.

In the end, one can argue that Mr. Romney secured the nomination because of a weak field of candidates, and because of the millions he spent on negative advertising.

Paul Ryan, by contrast, is seen as a true believer in conservative ideology. He is a self-professed fan of conservative thinker Ayn Rand, making her work required reading for his staff. Mr. Ryan spearheaded a proposed Congressional budget which radically guts a range of social programs. Under Mr. Ryan’s plan, America’s system of public health care for seniors – medicare – is reduced to a voucher system with vouchers that are not even designed to keep up with inflation rates in the medical sector.

Other programs gutted under Mr. Ryan’s budget include Medicaid, slashed funding grants for post-secondary students, an erosion of environmental and banking regulations and the erosion and elimination various other programs for the poor and middle-class, all under the guise of deficit reduction.

Meanwhile, the Ryan budget doles out huge tax cuts for the wealthy while tax breaks on items such as mortgages which help the middle class would be eliminated.

With recession, a middle-class under siege and youth facing mounting student debts and a difficult job market, the Ryan budget would make life worse for many. Rather than offering relief from the recession, it would make the suffering from it even worse. In Britain, the austerity budgets of David Cameron’s government have plunged that country into a double-dip recession.

The Ryan budget would spell economic ruin for the majority of Americans – including even the rich who may find less market for their goods with an eviscerated middle-class.

All this contributes to an excellent rallying cry for Obama Democrats in 2012. They can rightly present themselves as the party which prioritizes jobs, which presented a stimulus package aimed at putting Americans back to work and which saved the automobile industry. This would be a favourable contrast to the Ryan budget which shamelessly slashes programs for the poor and middle-class while throwing out huge tax breaks to the rich.

However, the Mitt Romney campaign is likely to have taken this all into account before the Ryan pick. The budget document is popular with many small government conservatives. The Ryan pick potentially increases enthusiasm among the conservative Republican base for the presidential ticket, something that is important in signing up volunteers and spurring voter turnout.

The Romney campaign likely sees their route to victory as coming through a close election, like those in 2000 and 2004, which broke down along ideological “blue” and “red” state lines with deeply entrenched divisions and turnout among the base being key.

The choice of Paul Ryan as vice president is a bold and risky one as compared to safer choices such as former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty who is seen as dull and unexciting. The Ryan pick both serves as a rallying cry to the Republican base, as well as a clear means for Democrats to go after the Republican ticket.

In terms of social policy, Mr. Ryan is a disaster with a budget that attacks the poor and middle-class. In terms of electoral politics, it is hard to tell how the Ryan pick will play out as it brings both distinct advantages and distinct disadvantages for the Romney campaign. Regardless, it was a clearly calculated move on the part of the Republican presidential campaign, not a decision taken lightly.

A brief history of health care

Guest Post: Hassan Arif

In addition to being a dear friend of mine, Hassan Arif is a columnist for the Telegraph-Journal in New Brunswick. He is also a Phd candidate at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, Canada.

The opening ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics was both spectacular and at times unusual. In all the ceremony, what was especially notable was a tribute to the National Health Service (NHS), Britain’s system of public and universal health care.

The NHS was established in 1948, a proud achievement of the government of Clement Attlee who led the first majority government of Britain’s Labour Party. The NHS was a major step forward in its time, even Sweden would not have a public and universal health care system until more than a decade later. The NHS would serve as an inspiration for other countries, including for our medicare system here in Canada.

The post-war Labour government of Clement Attlee was crucial in setting up the modern British welfare state – a welfare state which, including the National Health Service, largely followed the blue-print of Lord William Beveridge, a Liberal, from his 1942 Beveridge Report. Prime Minister Attlee was more low-key than his bombastic predecessor as Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, but his accomplishments were no less remarkable for it.

Given this history, it was surprising how in the 1990s Tony Blair and “New” Labour sought, in many ways, to distance the party from its past. Of course, the 1980s and 1990s brought new realities that forced a re-think of progressive politics – a global economy with greater capital mobility, the rise of the high-tech sector, the decline in Britain of the manufacturing working-class and the rise of a professional middle-class.

These new realities called for the adoption of a new progressive politics for the late 20th/early 21st century.

Enter Tony Blair and “New” Labour. After Labour’s fourth consecutive electoral defeat in 1992, there was a feeling among some that “modernization” had not gone far enough. However, in the process, accelerated upon Tony Blair’s ascension to the Labour Party leadership in 1994, seemed to go too far, running away from the party’s history, trying to hide any semblance of being a progressive party and being afraid to (assertively) contrast themselves with Thatcherite Conservatives. Tony Blair emphasized pledges to not increase taxes, to focus on deficit reduction and courted the conservative press. Labour faced accusations of focusing more on image and spin than on substance. The Blair government included some very progressive initiatives – a comprehensive poverty-reduction program and a strong focus on environmental sustainability. However, these progressive initiatives were often downplayed.

It was ultimately foreign policy that would overshadow much of the record of Tony Blair’s government, which solidified an image of him as betraying Labour’s progressive values; in particular, lining up with George W. Bush on the Iraq War. Cynicism increased and party membership plummeted. Labour managed to win re-election in 2005, but bled support to the Liberal Democrats and smaller parties such as the Greens. Idealism seemed lost.

The aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse has opened up greater space for progressive politics, as the abuses of the financial sector became too evident and demands for government intervention to help the unemployed increased. The emphasis of the Cameron government on austerity instead of job-creation has plunged Britain into a double-dip recession, increasing calls for a strong progressive alternative.

This is a call being heard in the post-Blair Labour Party with former leadership contender David Miliband taking up the cause of youth unemployment, establishing a progressive politics that seeks substantive policy solutions to real problems faced by the population. Current Labour leader Ed Miliband has attempted to broaden the party’s progressive base, drawing in social activist groups beyond the traditional base of labour union support.

Are there any lessons in this for Canada? While the Labour Party is the sister party of the NDP, many of the lessons are applicable to the broad spectrum of progressive parties including the Liberals. As Labour regularly forms government, it faces the pressures of governing similar to those traditionally faced by the federal Liberals and the provincial Liberals here in New Brunswick who are currently official opposition.

The Liberal Party has frequently faced accusations of being weak on principles and ideals. In New Brunswick, the last Liberal government lurched to the right on issues like taxation – advocating a flattening of tax-rates – ending up to the right of the Tories. Given the 2010 results, this “Out-Torying” of the Tories did not work out well.

We need a progressive politics that recognizes economic and demographic realities – that emphasizes jobs and entrepreneurship along with social justice, poverty-reduction and environmental sustainability, seeking to deal with the issues of the day, such as a Millennial generation faced with mounting student debts and an uncertain job market.

We need a politics where those who care about social and economic issues feel included and engaged. We need a politics that combines pragmatism and idealism – seeking substantive policy solutions. The NHS is a clear example of that in promoting accessible and guaranteed health care for all regardless of income or walk of life, making it a worthy accomplishment to be celebrated as an integral part of British history and society at the Olympic opening ceremonies.

Mitt Romney chooses Paul Ryan for VP running mate; social media does too.

This blog was originally authored by me and published on the Radian6 website. I’m posting it here for posterity.

The speculation as to whom GOP candidate for president Mitt Romney will choose as his running mate went into overdrive this week after the blog TechPresident.com suggested Wikipedia held the answer. Published Monday, the blog made its way around the social networks until it was picked up by mainstream media outlets.

On Tuesday evening, Stephen Colbert picked up on the story and used his show, The Colbert Report, to urge his fans to log on to Wikipedia and “make as many edits as possible to your favorite VP contender.” Wednesday, it was reported that Wikipedia had protected the entries of rumored vice-presidential nominees.

Back in June, I took a look at the social buzz being generated about rumored vice-presidential candidates. At that point, the last of the GOP presidential primaries had been decided and the summer campaign was just beginning. Given that vice-presidential speculation reached a fever pitch this week, I thought it was time to revisit the data.

The Candidates

I based my search on the individuals listed in Micah Sifry’s TechPresident.com blog, as well as an additional name contributed by The Drudge Report, Gen. David Petraeus.

The candidates I included are:

Rep. Rob Portman (OH)
Sen. Marco Rubio (FL)
Rep. Paul Ryan (WI)
Gov. Bobby Jindal (LA)
Gov. Chris Christie (NJ)
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (NH)
Gov. Tim Pawlenty (MN)
Gen. David Petraeus

I looked for all social media mentions of these individuals in conjunction with the words “vice president”, “vp”, and “veep” between August 6th and 9th. I then used our topic analysis widget to compare the percent change in mentions over the previous four days: August 2nd to 4th — to measure the impact of this week’s buzz around the TechPresident.com article.

Retired General David Patraeus has seen the largest jump in conversations — 2,085 mentions between August 6th and 9th, compared to just 43 mentions between August 2nd and 5th — but should be taken with a grain of salt. Until the Drudge Report published his name, Patraeus, who is currently serving as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was not many lists of possible contenders. The Christian Science Monitor has suggested that the likelihood of Patraeus accepting the role is “slim”.

The other contenders have been discussed widely over the past two months and most people feel one of them will be the likely choice for Mitt Romney. Of those individuals, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin saw the single largest increase, with 6,121 mentions between August 6th and 9th, compared to just 1,342 mentions between August 2nd and 5th.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal was the only contender on the list to receive fewer mentions — 794 between August 6th and 9th versus 939 mentions between August 2nd and 5th.

Interested in how the vice presidential conversations looked like in June? Check out Who’ll Be Romney’s Running Mate?