Saturday, November 12, 2005

Timing is everything

So much for waiting for an election in the new year, as the Cons are apparently looking to take down the Libs next week:
The Conservative Party wants to introduce a non-confidence motion in Parliament on Tuesday, CTV News has learned.

If all three opposition parties support the idea and it passes, the Liberal minority government will be defeated. This will put Canada into an election, with the vote to be held about the third week in December.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe and NDP Leader Jack Layton will meet Sunday afternoon to discuss how best to topple the government.
I can certainly understand a desire from the opposition to prevent the Libs from putting a series of popular bills before Parliament in the meantime, then blaming the opposition for halting their progress. But there are downsides to an immediate campaign too, notably the upcoming events (including the first ministers' conference and the climate change conference) which will be affected if the campaign happens now. And it's pretty clear that there are alternative strategies available to force an election in the new year.

While I suspect the Cons and the Bloc will be eager to push for the immediate election, my hope is that the NDP will insist on the February election date. Granted, that'll allow the Libs to do a lot more transparent campaigning in the meantime. But strategically that shouldn't make much difference, as no amount of politicking in Parliament is likely to put more votes in the Liberal column than Gomery II will take away. Meaning that the choice is whether to throw some worthy initiatives out the window in order to avoid a negligible advantage to Martin.

There's no doubt that there's a lot of empty Liberal bluster on its way in the near future, and that bluster deserves nothing but criticism from a good-governance standpoint. But there are also obvious substantive issues that need to be dealt with. And the NDP has the chance to be the only opposition party which pushes for good government without the gimmicks, rather than merely valuing an immediate election above all else.

Still obfuscating after all these years

PMPM announced today some funding to try to make up for Canada's treatment of Italian-Canadians during WWII. But it's more notable what Martin left out of his statement:
They were "treated in a manner we know to be offensive," Martin told members of Montreal's Italian community. He said those actions "were motivated by fear and suspicion."

But the prime minister didn't offer an outright apology or financial compensation for survivors as some in the Italian community had wanted.
Now, I can understand not seeing financial compensation as the best possible response this long after the fact. But it takes a special kind of arrogance to "make amends" for treatment based on fear and suspicion without acknowledging that the fear and suspicion had no basis in reality.

Of course, that type of acknowledgement would also force people to evaluate whether the government is equally wrong in its recent actions based on similar principles. And there's obvious reason for Martin and company to avoid that kind of discussion.

But the omission nonetheless makes Martin's public claims something less than genuine, and shows all too clearly that nothing has been learned from past mistakes.

Raise a Flag

The Government of Saskatchewan's Raise a Flag site is live, seeking an ongoing energy accord for the province.

I'd still prefer to see genuine equalization reform that would eliminate the current problems in all provinces. But there's no reason for Ottawa to refuse to talk to Calvert, or worse yet to claim that an earlier deal to eliminate past wrongs entitles it to ignore future ones. And it's all the more egregious that the federal government won't address Saskatchewan's legitimate concerns, but will hand Quebec $500 million for no particular reason.

So with that in mind, give the site a look, and drop Goodale and Martin a note to point out that some provinces shouldn't be more equalized than others.

The power of Bushco compels you

The "good and evil" framing by the Bush administration takes a step toward the truly absurd:
In his comments, (U.S. Ambassador Francis) Rooney said Washington was committed to providing food aid to feed the world's hungry. But he said the advance of agricultural science could help people in "even the most difficult environments" produce crops to feed themselves.

"We look to the Holy See to help the world recognize the moral imperative of a true investigation of these technologies," he said.
Note how nothing in the discussion speaks to a moral imperative to actually end hunger. Instead, in the U.S.' view, it's morally wrong to seek to end hunger through means other than those which would benefit its biotechnology companies.

There's probably something to the argument that GMOs shouldn't be rejected entirely if due protections are in place. But there are also legitimate concerns about them, particularly where they're designed to both overtake existing crops and force farmers into a cycle of dependence on the supplier. And there's certainly no moral imperative to push forward with GMOs without reasonable answers to those concerns - no matter how infallible both Bush and the Pope are seen to be by their supporters.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Opportunity knocking

I'm not sure if there's a conscious effort on the part of both the CAW and the NDP to show the differences between the two groups. But if so, this should only help matters:
The Canadian Auto Workers union wants to make flagging sales of North American vehicles an election issue, president Buzz Hargrove said Friday.

The union says the reason North American auto companies are in trouble – and demanding concessions from their workers – is unfair trade rules that favour importers of foreign-made cars.

"The way to solve the problems of the auto industry today is to stop the imports from killing us or get the opportunity to export to those nations that won't let us sell our products today," Hargrove told CAW leaders on Friday.
Now, I'll agree with Hargrove that the federal government should be seeking to ensure that other markets are able to purchase Canadian-made vehicles, and I hope that'll form part of the NDP platform. But there's no justification at all for consciously reducing the choices available to Canadian purchasers. And that's all the more true when foreign-owned companies are going out of their way to invest in Canada, and when the domestic companies' problems are related so closely to their dependence on low-efficiency, high-price vehicles.

Which isn't to say that Hargrove is necessarily wrong to try to preserve the current position held by the CAW. But as with last week's effort by Hargrove to postpone any confidence vote, this appeal is one that the NDP should respectfully decline to agree with. And that in turn should help to dispel any Con claims that the NDP is too close to labour to appreciate the bigger picture.

Regaining ground

There was no good reason for polio to make its return to countries that had already eradicated it. But the good news is that 10 of those countries have once again beaten the disease:
An inoculation campaign has eradicated polio in 10 African countries where the deadly disease was reintroduced after 2003, when a vaccine boycott in Nigeria was blamed for an outbreak across Africa, the Middle East and Indonesia, the UN health agency said Friday.

The 10 countries were among 18 that had eliminated polio but saw it return after hardline Islamic clerics in Nigeria claimed the vaccine was part of a U.S.-led plot to render Muslims infertile or infect them with AIDS. Vaccination programs restarted in Nigeria in July 2004 after local officials ended the 11-month boycott...

“This is the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Bruce Aylward, co-ordinator of WHO's global polio eradication program. “The world can be polio-free in another 12 to 18 months everywhere, and the poorest countries in the world are committed to turning this around.”...

Polio is still classified as endemic in six countries: Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Niger, Afghanistan and Egypt.
The original suspicion about the vaccine is an all-too-clear example about how unwarranted distrust can overcome even the best of intentions and plans. But fortunately, the bulk of the damage has now been overcome. As long as the international effort is allowed to continue, it may not be long before at least one preventable harm may actually be prevented on a worldwide scale.

The next great threat

When a PMPM-appointed group criticizes Martin over his handling of climate change, you know there's a serious issue being ignored:
The danger to the country from climate change is "perhaps unmatched in times of peace," says the draft of a blunt report from the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. Created by the federal government in 1994, the round table is a blue-ribbon advisory body of business and labour leaders, academics, environmentalists and civic activists. The 24 members are appointed directly by the Prime Minister, giving the group an inside track in Ottawa policy discussions...

But because the federal and provincial governments have so far fumbled the issue, most Canadians are cynical about climate change, taking a wait-and-see attitude. Political leaders must move climate change away from being a strictly environmental issue, urges the report.

"It must be seen as an issue that touches on the foundations of Canadians' way of life — jobs, economic competitiveness, human health and cultural values."...

Although the round table's analysis largely echoes the prevailing scientific views on climate change, its report is a forceful excoriation of both the public and private sectors in Canada for failing to rise to the challenge.
From Martin's standpoint, the report is apparently a convenient way to get climate change back in the news in advance of the upcoming Montreal summit. For the rest of us, though, it should be a reminder that the current government has done essentially nothing to date on an issue that has potentially disastrous implications for Canadians...and that contrary to the wishful thinking of the right, the private sector isn't going to change for the better without some serious motivation to do so.

In remembrance

Remembrance Day features to visit:
Royal Canadian Legion - National Ceremony details
Globe and Mail
National Post
MacLean's News
Star editorial

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Good advice

Apparently the U.S. is starting to take Jim Reed's advice on dealing with Iran. From Reed's latest column:
The old war on communism cannot be fully equated with the new war on terrorism but the path to a solution looks increasingly familiar. It is becoming clear that the invasion of Iraq, the bellicose American rhetoric toward Syria, the absence of a clear and strong policy toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and the unwillingness to recognize Iran for the position of power it holds in the region have had the effect of leaving American policy in tatters...

A rapprochement with Iran may be an unthinkable idea. It may be anathema to U.S. policy-makers who still have vivid memories of the violent occupation of their embassy in Tehran back in 1979. But on the other hand, perhaps enough time has passed now to move on.
And the latest news about Iran's nuclear standoff?
The United States and Europe are ready to compromise with Iran over its nuclear program and have tentatively approved a plan that would allow it to make the gas used to enrich uranium, senior officials and diplomats said Thursday...

The official emphasized the plan would not formally be proposed by the Americans and Europeans. Instead, he said, they were looking to the Russians to make such an offer, which they then could approve.
Of course, the U.S. isn't willing to be seen taking the first step toward agreement. And the actual move may not be enough to win Iran's approval, as it still seems contrary to the recognition of sovereignty to act as it pleases that Iran has been seeking all along.

But at the very least, the U.S. and Europe seem to be waking up to the fact that any real solution with regard to Iran is going to come through negotiation rather than threats and posturing. We can only hope that Iran can recognize the same reality on this issue, and that success this time will in turn lead to more use of the same principle.

Access to justice

In the Globe's web comment, R. Roy McMurtry discusses issues of access to justice:
The challenges related to access to justice, however, go well beyond the problems faced by the poor. In fact, the current high cost of civil litigation is increasingly preventing almost all but the very affluent from pursuing a legal remedy through a trial.

I am hearing more and more frequently about the phenomenon of the so-called "disappearing civil trial." Disappearing because of the often huge cost of a trial. As a result, highly experienced civil litigation counsel may become an endangered species with the dramatic decline of the number of civil trials. This represents, of course, a serious access-to-justice issue and civil justice reform must remain a high priority for the legal profession throughout Canada.

In the criminal justice system in Canada, persons charged with serious criminal offences who cannot afford a lawyer are provided legal representation through legal aid plans. However, the financial resources available to these plans are not sufficient to provide the same assistance in civil law cases except to a certain extent in family law disputes. Indeed, the financial eligibility criteria restricts legal aid assistance to those who are below or close to the poverty line. The result has been and continues to be an increasing number of unrepresented litigants in both civil and criminal trials.
It's amazing to me that for all the time that gets put into determining what the law ought to be, there seems to be little will to ensure that the law can then be enforced by its subjects and beneficiaries. While McMurtry rightly notes the lack of funding in existing Legal Aid programs as well, the Charter right to counsel to defend an individual against the charges of the state seems to stand in stark contrast against the lack of resources to allow individuals to prosecute or defend claims against anybody else.

McMurtry suggests pro bono work as one solution, but that seems likely to end up far too limited in scope. Instead, I'd suggest that Legal Aid programs be expanded to ensure adequate representation in all matters. That could mean having Legal Aid simply hire more staff, or it could result in firms making themselves available through a regular retainer with Legal Aid funding to fill the added scope. More likely it would involve both of the above, given Legal Aid's lack of resources to even fill its current role.

What's worse as things stand now, a successful court process doesn't really restore the party to his or her original position. Even when a party is entirely right in law, the current costs system doesn't usually provide for full financial recovery in the enforcement of one's rights, to say nothing of the cost in time and effort in going through the litigation process.

It would seem a simple enough change to provide for solicitor/client costs (i.e. the amount typically expended to hire a lawyer reasonably suited to the case) as a standard rather than party/party costs (which are an arbitrary and artificially low estimate of actual costs) so as to ensure that a fully successful party doesn't lose out even while winning in court. That should make one's chance of success a stronger motivator in settlement discussions, rather than making the cost of trial the strongest motivating factor even for a party who justly expects to be successful.

I can sympathize with a desire to encourage settlement and avoid litigation where possible, which are obviously primary goals of the current system. But litigation should be avoided based on positive reasons to pursue other options, not on a process that prices itself outside the range of most and then punishes people who seek to enforce their rights. As it stands, efficiency within the legal system seems to be a higher priority than the rule of law itself.

Safe again...for now

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is once again safe from drilling, as the same strategy which won approval for the drilling initiative in the U.S. Senate doomed the plan in the House:
U.S. house leaders late yesterday abandoned an attempt to push through a hotly contested plan to open an Alaskan wildlife refuge to oil drilling.

They dropped the plan because they feared it would jeopardize approval of a sweeping budget bill today...

The House repeatedly has approved drilling in the refuge as part of broad energy legislation, only to see the effort blocked each time by the threat of a filibuster in the Senate.

The budget bill is immune from filibuster, but drilling proponents suddenly found it hard to get the measure accepted by a majority of the House.

That's because Democrats heartily oppose the overall budget bill, giving House Republican opponents of drilling in the Arctic enough leverage to have the matter killed.
The story may not be over just yet, but it appeared when the Senate passed its budget bill that there would be little chance of preserving ANWR. Due credit to the members of the House who took the initiative to force the removal of the pro-drilling language.

It'll only take one common vote between the House and Senate to permanently undermine the refuge...but at the very least, that common vote has been pushed back once again.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Well said

For the nearly definitive commentary on the NDP's proposed non-confidence motion, CalgaryGrit has it. All I'll add is that I have a few more doubts that it'll actually force a February election - not because anybody will choose to force a Christmas election instead, but because it'll be tough to hold the Libs to the motion, particularly since Parliament won't be in session when the writ would drop under its terms.

Ultimately, PMPM will get to choose whether he'd rather accept the motion and see the second Gomery report go public mid-election, or ignore the motion and continue on his previous timetable while facing a Parliamentary mutiny. I'm less sure than CG that the Libs will prefer the former result, though either way the motion is ultimately a plus for the opposition.

Update: I stand corrected, as the motion may apparently itself require that Parliament reconvene in January:
(S)trategists for the opposition said they have the numbers to use their opposition days this fall to force the Commons to reconvene in January and allow them an opportunity to table a no-confidence motion to defeat the government. That would effectively enforce Mr. Layton's new timetable.

Planning ahead

You know it's the NDP's day when David Dodge puts the party's signature issues in the headlines:
Bank of Canada governor David Dodge says the country's pension system must be strengthened so it can continue to play an important role in the economy and contribute to the efficiency of financial markets.

Mr. Dodge noted that defined-benefits pension plans, which make up the bulk of private employer-sponsored pensions, have been in decline in recent years as they face bigger and bigger deficits...

Mr. Dodge said provinces and the federal government must all get involved in the overhaul.

The central bank's governor discussed incentives under which large pools of capital of different types of pensions are accumulated and invested.
Not that Dodge proposes much of a solution at all, let alone one that the NDP would get behind. But the comment should highlight the fact that the Liberals have failed utterly to protect pensions thus far, highlighting the fact that only one federal party wants to take action to help workers who want to see the benefits they've bargained for.

Taking action

While Martin complains about not wanting a Christmas election and the other opposition parties whine about not wanting to do anything, it's once again left to Layton to figure out a workable solution:
NDP Leader Jack Layton has proposed an election call for early January, resulting in an election the following month.

He says called the move a “reasonable” compromise that allows Canadians to avoid a holiday election but doesn't let the Liberal government decide the timing.

Mr. Layton said the NDP will introduce a motion to that effect on Nov. 24, its first Opposition day in the House of Commons.
In other words, the motion will successfully avoid interfering with the November first ministers' meeting, and will allow the opposition parties to bring down the government without having to vote against the fiscal update. About the only out left is for Harper to complain now that the confidence vote isn't on his desired terms - though that would conflict rather thoroughly with Harper's equal demand that Layton be the one to bring forward the motion.

One would think that at least one other party could have spotted the solution as well, rather than leaving all the work to Layton. But I suppose this is par for the course for the current Parliament. If the NDP's going to continue to be the only party getting anything done around Parliament Hill, the new election had better bring some added reinforcements to help Jack and company to run the place.

Voted down

Contrary to earlier speculation, Tony Blair decided to push ahead with a 90-day period for detention without charges. And now he's reaped the just rewards of that choice:
British Prime Minister Tony Blair lost a crucial parliamentary vote on sweeping anti-terror legislation Wednesday, the first major defeat of his premiership and a serious blow to his authority.

Legislators blocked plans to detain terror suspects for 90 days without charge by 322 votes to 291, a majority of 31 against the government.

British lawmakers later voted to detain terror suspects for 28 days without charge — an option favoured by opposition parties and rebels in Mr. Blair's Labour party.
The end result is still somewhat of an increase in the detention-without-charge period, and that's cause for concern. But the vote sends a strong message that in the U.K. at least, "trust me" isn't going to be considered a good enough reason to grant the executive carte blanche when it comes to civil rights.

Inside each of us

The Globe reports on an experiment to see just what toxic substances are present in the blood of Canadians generally. And not surprisingly, the results aren't good:
The results, to be released in a report today, show that despite his clean-living ways, Mr. Bateman's body is a repository for 48 different toxic substances. These include heavy metals; PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls used in electrical transformers and now banned); PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers used as fire retardants); PFOs (perfluorinated chemicals used in stain repellants, non-stick cookware and food packaging), pesticides and insecticides.

While this may seem startling for someone who lives on B.C.'s idyllic Saltspring Island and eats organic food, Mr. Bateman's so-called "body burden" is that of an average Canadian.

"The bottom line being that we are all polluted," said Dr. Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence Canada, a Toronto-based environmental health group. "The message to Canadians is -- it doesn't matter where you live, how old you are, it doesn't matter how clean living you are or if you eat organic food, or if you get a lot of exercise. We all carry inside of us hundreds of different pollutants and these things are accumulating inside our bodies every day."...

Tests were done on 11 volunteers, including Mr. Bateman, for 88 chemicals believed to be carcinogenic, to disrupt reproduction and hormonal function and interfere with fetal development. Researchers found that, on average, participants had a cocktail of 44 in their bodies...

The report noted that younger test subjects had much lower levels of PCBs, chemicals banned in 1977, and said that shows regulation works.
Note that Health Canada (unlike other state health administrators) hadn't taken any steps to even find out about the concentration of these toxic substances, meaning that it took a non-profit effort to even begin gathering information.

Obviously some of the substances are ones about which we now know enough to avoid. But the group which did the testing notes that there's been a delay in regulating some of the substances which are already known to be harmful. And more importantly, it shouldn't escape our notice that a past lack of information can't be undone once the truth about a substance becomes known.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Feet to the fire

Lorne Calvert has gone public to point out that the federal government's quick fix to equalization hasn't really fixed anything. And the Liberal government's response has been predictable:
After finding out Saskatchewan won't get a dime in federal equalization payments next year, Premier Lorne Calvert is accusing the federal government of renegging on a promise.

Calvert says Prime Minister Martin promised Ottawa would stop the practice of clawing back more than 100 per cent of resource revenue when calculating payments to the provinces – but Calvert says that's exactly what Liberals are planning to do...

An equalization panel is working on a new approach that might be more favourable to Saskatchewan. However, on Tuesday, federal Finance Minister Ralph Goodale said the panel wants more time to write its report. The report was supposed to be handed in next month, but now that won't happen until spring.

As a result, Goodale says, next year's equalization payments will be based on the old formula.
The origins of the problem lie in the Libs' original willingness to sign side deals rather than fixing the system generally. But at the very least, you'd think they'd know better than to try to back out of those side deals just before election time. And if that has the electoral consequence of cutting down on Lib/NDP vote-splitting at the polls, Calvert's move could do much more for his federal party than any amount of action from the premier next door.

Bluff called

Let's see what Harper finds to whine about now:
Jack Layton sent the Conservatives the clarion signal they have been demanding, stating unequivocally Tuesday that he is committed to helping them bring down the government at the next available opportunity...

The NDP leader could hardly have been more adamant. In fact he sounded even more gung-ho than Harper about defeating the Liberals.

"We are very clear," Layton told reporters in Vancouver.

"If there's non-confidence motions before the House (of Commons) we'll be voting against confidence.

"We don't believe the government deserves our confidence any longer."

Layton went a step farther than Harper, stating that he would also vote against the Liberals' supplementary budget estimates Dec. 8 or any other confidence matter.
Frankly, I'm surprised that Layton isn't at least leaving the door open to negotiations with the Liberals. But now Harper has no excuses left: if he wants his election, he's got it, and can precipitate it as early as next week.

We'll find out very soon whether or not the Cons are truly committed to ending Liberal government as soon as possible, or whether they'll decide to do so only when it seems politically convenient.

The end or the beginning?

Larry Zolf comments on the ongoing Arar saga:
Arar seemed subdued and cautious on television. He seemed less a man exonerated than a man with a lot of problems. He can’t find a job in his chosen profession of engineering, is shunned by his fellow Muslims and is treated very poorly by Canadians in general...

The press and politicians are now falling all over themselves to defend Arar and give him his place in Canadian society. But to the Americans he is still a pariah and in Canada he fares no better.

We haven’t yet heard the end of the Arar story.
I for one hope Zolf is right about that, but for that to happen the media will have to be willing to point out that the current Liberal crocodile tears over Arar's treatment are in stark contrast to the complete lack of action when Arar was rendered and tortured. They'll have ample opportunity to do so when the results of the inquiry are released, but it seems all too likely that the results will be a one-day story rather than being seen as a continuing need for change.

Ebb and flow

So much for post-Gomery outrage turning the tide against the Liberals, as a new poll puts the Libs squarely in the driver's seat electorally:
In the new sampling, the Liberals enjoy the support of 35 per cent of voters, up seven points. The Tories garnered 28 per cent compared to 31 per cent, while the NDP dropped to 16 per cent, from 20 per cent, on the weekend. The poll of 1,000 Canadians was conducted Saturday and Sunday and is considered accurate to within 3.1 percentage points, 95 per cent of the time.
While some may have seen the temporary NDP boost in the polls as reason to force an election, to me last weekend's results were about the worst possible outcome for the NDP: enough of an increase to make pundits say the NDP should want to go to the polls, but also a drop as compared to the Cons that was bound to result in votes bleeding over to the Liberals. The new poll is simply the inevitable result, as moderate-left voters make clear that they don't want to see Harper in power.

With that said, there's no reason now to go back on this weekend's decision on health care. Bad policy is bad policy no matter what the polls say, and moreover those moderate-left voters are exactly the ones most likely to wonder why the Liberals were willing to precipitate an election in order to avoid defending health care. While the NDP should still be receptive to any meaningful offer from the Liberals, and should still be looking to push their ethics package among other policies within Parliament, the plan should be to vote the government down at the next opportunity barring a compelling reason to do otherwise.

After all, the backlash from the previous poll should be over, and there's a good ways to go before any election. The key for now is still to displace the Cons as the best possible alternative to continued Lib government...and that's easy enough to do by encouraging Harper to be Harper.

Monday, November 07, 2005

How to use a surplus

While the federal Parliament is on the verge of falling apart, times in the provincial Legislature are just getting interesting:
The suddenly oil-rich Saskatchewan government plans to improve business taxes, come up with a strategy to build more roads in the North and study issues surrounding missing persons.

It also plans to move toward regulating and funding midwifery in the province, as well as fully fund its share of the Canadian Agricultural Income Stabilization program for the second straight year...

Long-term commitments include transforming 10 per cent of the province's arable land to harvestable forests in the next 20 years and ensuring one-third of Saskatchewan's energy needs are met by renewable sources by 2030...

The premier also said the budget will remain balanced and some of the extra cash will be used to pay down debt.
From the sound so far, the budget should be an excellent example of how best to use a short-term surplus for long-term results. Most importantly, with the debt continuing to be paid down there should be all the more money available next year if oil prices stay anywhere near their current level.

Unlike at the federal level, the added funds are resulting in a serious move toward sustainability on many levels. Kudos to Calvert and company on a great start to the fall session.

Action vs. inaction

It shouldn't be news by now that the NDP has rejected the Liberals' "proposal" to preserve health care. The CP has the details as to why:
The Liberal document restates the guiding principles of the Canada Health Act (CHA), along with a commitment to end "double dipping" by doctors who work in both the public and private sectors.

But it is not clear how the government could enforce these promises without full information on how provinces are using those dollars - something the provinces refuse to provide.

The proposals leave plenty of room for political discretion about enforcement, as in this sentence:

"Where private involvement threatens the integrity of the single payer system, the federal government will act to ensure that the terms and conditions for any new federal dedicated funding require that these funds be spent within the public health care system."

It is not clear how the government would decide when the integrity of the single payer system was threatened, but it would presumably be a matter of political judgment.

Nor is it clear how an informed judgement could be made without full accounting by provinces of how they use federal money...

The Liberal proposal promises Dosanjh will seek new studies about "the nature and role of the private sector" from the Canadian Institute for Health Information and the Health Council of Canada.

But the federal government has already conducted countless studies of the health system, including the royal commission led by Roy Romanow, but few of their recommendations have been implemented.
Evidently, the Liberal line is that more empty words should be enough to make up for the lack of past action. But the NDP will gladly take the position of being the party that wants to do more than just study the system to death - especially if the Liberals' best argument is that they're supposedly catching up on past negligence in other departments.

Monitoring the establishment

Through his submissions to the Gomery inquiry, Rafe Mair points out that there's reason to wonder whether either the media or Parliament has both the ability and the will to confront wrongful government action:
"The sponsorship scandals and all your work, with respect, will just be matters to airbrush from the scene too, once enough time passes, if this commission doesn't recognize that the scandal itself is secondary to the public cynicism it fuels and doesn't see clearly that for all the sins committed, the greater sins may be the system itself and the passiveness of the national media."

"You can have, Mr. Commissioner, the best access to information laws and procedures in the world, but if neither our elected members nor the national media have both the means and the motive to use that access vigorously and often, we might just as well not have it."

"If we the people cannot have a constant bright light looking into the goings on of the government, there is no democracy."
Of course, in the context of Gomery it should be pointed out that media involvement played a meaningful role in allowing the story to be publicly known. But Mair is right to point out that access to information is fairly useless if it's not put to good effect - and media amalgamation seems very likely to have reduced the amount of attention directed toward trying to find new stories, rather than making use of press releases and public statements.

Granted, there are some countervailing forces which have at times put meanstream media coverage to shame in sorting out the details of an issue. But such examples may only highlight the fact that the traditional sources aren't doing their job. And that means there's all the more need for ongoing attention to issues which aren't yet in the public hopes that the truth about the next equivalent to the sponsorship scandal won't be discovered only several years and a new administration after the fact.

Trying again

Telus and its union have reached another tentative agreement, putting the decision back in the hands of individual workers:
Telus Corp. and its unionized workers reached a new tentative agreement, the company announced late Sunday.

Canada's second-biggest phone operator said negotiations with the Telecommunications Workers Union resumed Sunday.

At that meeting, the company made changes to its previous offer which unionized workers rejected last week, the union said on its website.
While the stand by workers in rejecting the first deal was an important one (it's always helpful to be reminded that unions run based on the will of its members), hopefully there'll be enough improvement in this offer to put the dispute to rest.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The inside view

The Guardian posts an overview of a new book by Sir Christopher Meyer, the UK Ambassador to Washington at the time when the Iraq war was planned (and thus somebody who saw the run-up to the war with full access to the best information in the hands of both the U.S. and the U.K.). In sum, Meyer argues that the U.S. wasn't about to go to war without Blair's support and was willing at least to delay the invasion to give inspectors more time. Meyer thus argues that Blair is culpable for failing to ensure that the invasion plans included at least some thought to what would happen following the occupation.

Give the article a read, and look forward to the book.


The CP reports that the federal gun registry hasn't yet been implemented at all in Nunavut...and that in fact the territory has no real gun safety program to speak of:
"There is no territorial gun safety program," said Steve Pinksen, director of policy planning and legislation for Nunavut's Environment Department...

Robertson is the lone staff member in Iqaluit for the Canadian Firearms Centre, the organization responsible for the gun registry in Canada.

Robertson arrived in March. Before that, the office was empty...

Officially, Nunavut has no gun safety trainers, so Robertson sends Canada Firearms Safety Course textbooks to volunteer trainers, who are able to ship the books, tests, registration forms and decommissioned gun kits to remote communities...

(The course) has never been translated into Inuktitut, the first language of some 85 per cent of the territory's residents. It has no information on gun safety at -40 temperatures, or how to carry a loaded weapon on a Ski-Doo in polar bear country.
One would think that with the territories falling generally under federal jurisdiction, the federal government would have ensured from the beginning that the program would be funded, and that gun safety information would be available. Instead, it's done nothing but undo whatever good already existed: as noted in the article, there was a territorial gun safety program until the federal government declared that the original program wouldn't be recognized for the purposes of the registry.

It's well and good to have the registry governed by federal standards. But there's no excuse for creating such standards while undermining the ability of significant parts of the country to meet them. And as a result of the Liberals' poor planning, Nunavut residents lack both the ability to comply with the law, and the resources to inform themselves about gun safety as well as other Canadians can.

Making strides

Good news from the U.K.: Tony Blair is in retreat over his attempt to pass a law allowing for individuals to be detained for 90 days without charges. And that seems to be in part a response to some prominent legal figures who have lent their support to the anti-detention side:
The retreat reflects the strength of feeling not only in the Commons, but within the legal establishment. Lord Woolf, who retired as Lord Chief Justice only a month ago, becomes the most senior judicial figure yet to criticise the measures today, warning of the gradual erosion of 'what is acceptable' in the effort to combat terrorism.

He spoke after chairing a London lecture at which Israel's chief justice, Aharon Barak, said judges must 'protect democracy both from terrorism and from the means the state wants to use to fight terrorism'.

Woolf agreed, adding in an unprecedented intervention: 'Every time you move the goalposts, you are accepting a different level of what is acceptable. That then becomes the new starting point, whereas before it was the last point. And that is the case with the length of time one can hold people in custody without charge.'

Friends of Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General, have also disclosed that he is not convinced of the 90-days case because he 'has not seen evidence that robustly supports this' - contradicting Blair.
It doesn't appear that many people are pressing to eliminate detention without charges entirely. Current UK law already allows for 14 days detention, and the article speculates that all sides will ultimately compromise on a 28-day period. Which is itself far longer than should be faced by an individual not subject to any reasonable criminal suspicion.

But at the very least, Blair's claims that the House of Commons should simply take his word as to the necessary period have fallen on deaf ears...leading to the possibility that the UK will set a positive example for the rest of the Western world in rediscovering the importance of civil rights in the face of unsupported state suspicion.

Necessary services

The federal prison ombudsman points out that the prison system isn't providing sufficient resources to treat mentally-ill prisoners:
In his annual report released yesterday, Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers said the number of inmates with “significant, identified mental health needs” has doubled over the past decade, but treatment services have declined. “The level of mental health services is now seriously deficient.”...

In all, about 12 per cent of federal inmates are seriously mentally ill, Mr. Sapers said, while the system is able to deal with only half of them.

Leaving mentally ill patients untreated violates their legal and moral right to health care, he said: “It's also a real public-safety imperative and it's also a very cost-effective way of approaching the problem.”
Sending money to offer services to prisoners is seldom the politically popular thing to do, and I can hear the reactionaries now complaining about prisoners having better access to psychological treatment than the general public. But in this case it should be obvious that there are substantial public-safety benefits to offering the service, as untreated illnesses may themselves lead to future criminal behaviour. And one has to question how the government can send a message about the importance of following the law when the lack of funding means that court-ordered treatment isn't available.

The plan to deal with all types of inmates is in place through Correctional Service Canada; the only need now is for funding. If PMPM wants to make sure that some real progress is made during the current Parliament, providing that funding would be a good place to start.