Saturday, November 19, 2005

The nuclear option

Results are in from the provincial NDP convention, and of particular interest a panel discussion decided to reject a resolution to bar the prospect of refining uranium in the province:
A resolution that would have called on the government to stop consideration of uranium refining was defeated Friday afternoon in panel discussions behind closed doors...

Uranium has been a front-burner issue for Calvert since he returned from a trade mission to Asia last month and suggested that China's desire to build nuclear power plants presented an opportunity for Saskatchewan's uranium industry...

Party policy dictates that resolutions defeated in panel are not moved to the public part of the convention.

"I'm told there was a lively debate," Calvert said of the panel discussion.
While I'm not a fan of nuclear energy generally, there seems little chance of its use coming to an end anytime soon. And that being the case, it makes sense for the NDP to at least see whether it'll be possible for the refining process to benefit the province. While there'll hopefully be a more public debate when specific proposals are made, the defeat of the resolution should be the best possible outcome for both the party and the province.

Cooperative effort

It's no great surprise, but Jack Layton is on side with Saskatchewan's Raise a Flag campaign:
Federal NDP leader Jack Layton is backing Saskatchewan's push for an equalization side-deal from Ottawa.

Premier Lorne Calvert is currently running an ad campaign that urges the federal government to exclude Saskatchewan's skyrocketing resource revenues from the equalization formula...

In a campaign-style speech at the Saskatchewan NDP convention today, Layton praised Calvert's campaign.

He says the equalization formula needs to be fixed and, in the interim, Saskatchewan should be given some sort of deal out of fairness.
Now this campaign has turned into one involving both good politics and good policy. It would be all the better if the campaign seemed likely to lead to real change before the upcoming election. But at the very least, the failure of the Liberals (and Goodale in particular) to respond to Saskatchewan's reasonable claim to keep its resource revenue should help to push a few more votes from the Libs to the NDP. And that could work wonders in the seats that went narrowly to the Cons last time out.

Symbol over substance

The Star reports on some of the measures being taken to make next week's climate-change conference environmentally neutral:
Since the aim of the two-week conference is to negotiate steps to curb climate change, those involved feel obliged to make at least a symbolic contribution...

(T)o make the conference climate-neutral will require nearly 50,000 tonnes of savings.

One way to come up with them is to buy carbon "credits" from projects, such as wind or solar energy, that replace sources of greenhouse gas emissions, like coal-burning electricity generating stations.

Environment Canada is buying up to 14,000 tonnes of credits from an Alberta wind farm, at a cost that could hit $112,000.
The article discusses many far more worthy measures being takenas well, including the use of bio-diesel and ethanol-burning vehicles, "green-defensive" techniques for drivers, and the simpler measure of placing most hotels within walking distance of the convention centre. And there's plenty of merit to such measures, both to demonstrate the technology that's already available and to highlight how easy it can be to reduce emissions.

But the credit-trading idea has long been a controversial one, and for good reason. While Kyoto may be a start, the fight against climate change will be tough to win in a system based primarily on cancelling immediate gains out against immediate losses. And I'd be highly disappointed if Environment Canada can't come up with a better way to invest its money for long-term gain than to buy credits in order to keeping the convention symbolically neutral.

Regardless of how many emissions are generated by the convention itself, the convention's success or failure should be measured by the degree to which it encourages future action on a far larger scale than the scope of one gathering. Unfortunately, with the organizers apparently more interested in current symbolism than in the best long-term use of resources, it's difficult to expect much better from the delegates.

Equalizing access

The Saskatchewan provincial government takes a huge step toward giving some of its most vulnerable citizens the ability to speak for themselves:
The Saskatchewan government says an aboriginal court system will in place by next year in the northwestern half of the province.

Justice Minister Frank Quennell says it will be based in Meadow Lake and will offer services in Dene and Cree.

Quennell says the province is appointing justices of the peace who speak both of those languages, adding that the court will move around from community to community as required.

Just yesterday, the Globe reported about ineffective translation as a barrier to fair access to courts in Ontario. There's no reason why the very institution designed to adjudicate matters fairly should fail to do that job based on language barriers. Accordingly, it's great to see Saskatchewan ahead of the curve in ensuring that the legal system will allow more of its people to be heard in their primary languages.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Fly away home

I'm not quite sure how this is an afterthought in the Globe's business section rather than a top headline:
The U.S. House of Representatives has dumped a contentious law allowing American companies to profit from penalties on imports from Canada and other countries.

The resolution to repeal the so-called Byrd amendment was included in a sweeping spending-cut bill...

The World Trade Organization ruled in 2002 that the amendment violates U.S. trade obligations. It allows the U.S. Treasury to funnel money from duties on imports directly to the American competitors involved.
Not that the rest of the bill is one worth being happy about. And the vote won't have any effect until the Senate agrees on a similar deal.

But those concerns aside, it's still a huge step for the House to vote to repeal the amendment which provided a double incentive for American businesses to challenge foreign government action. And it's particularly important for Canada, given that it's the Byrd amendment which would allow the U.S. to distribute the withheld tariffs to its softwood lumber producers.

I'm not so optimistic as to think this is the start of a general U.S. strategy of acknowledging the validity of international opinions and rulings. But with Bushco, we have to take what we can get.

Downturn

According to the U.S. Commerce Department, the American housing bubble is at best deflating:
Housing starts tumbled in all regions of the United States last month, falling an average of 5.6 per cent to an annual rate of 2.01 million units, the U.S. Commerce Department reported yesterday...

Prospective home buyers are typically paying roughly $75 (U.S.) more a month for every $100,000 of mortgage money than they were just two years ago -- $624 a month versus $550.

Even more worrying for many economists is the damage that a stalled housing sector could inflict on the broader economy. In record numbers, homeowners have been cashing in the accumulated equity to renovate, buy cars and generally sustain their lifestyles.
The article cites several economists to the effect that the drop isn't likely to lead to a burst bubble, and shouldn't have too many implications for the wider economy just yet. And it would certainly be for the best if the effects of the drop can be minimized. But it's still worrisome to see such a massive change, particularly when interest rates seem likely to continue rising and therefore prevent any great rebound.

Speaking of rebounds, the article tosses in one small sentence which may be the most significant information discovered by the report:
Interestingly, there was no evidence of post-hurricane rebuilding in the Gulf states.
Let this be a reminder that whatever measures do need to be taken, whether in the housing market or elsewhere, nobody can rely on the Bush administration to ensure that they're accomplished. Presumably there are many reasons for the lack of reconstruction, but it seems obvious that the money approved by the administration so far hasn't managed to do any good, either for the construction industry or for the families whose homes were destroyed. And that lack of effective action will be all the more glaring if the economists are wrong and the effects of the drop spill over into the wider economy.

On targeting

The Globe's web comment discusses the reality of the proposed Goodale tax cuts:
Realistically, the government had little choice but to offer this $500 increase to avoid a sudden devaluation of the basic personal credit all taxpayers are entitled to deduct from their tax payable. The amount of this credit is determined by multiplying the basic personal amount (currently $8,148), by the lowest tax rate (16 per cent), for a credit of $1,304 in 2005.

If the mini-budget is enacted, the dollar amount will be $500 higher, but it will be multiplied by only 15 per cent, for a tax credit of (wait for it) $1,297. In other words, this part of the mini-budget would decrease the net value of the basic personal credit by $7 in 2005...

(T)he rate reduction from 16 per cent to 15 per cent is not targeted to lower-.or middle-income earners at all, but applies broadly to all income tax payers, including the affluent and wealthy. This is why it is so expensive for the government, despite its modest value to individuals.

The mini-budget promises further cuts in 2010 for those in the higher brackets. It would be more accurate to describe these as the "targeted" tax cuts, since they will be received only by those earning more than $35,595.
Not that anybody should be surprised to have the Liberals trumpet their dedication to lower-income Canadians as the basis for policy targeted toward higher income-levels. But the proposed tax cuts may be a particularly brazen example. It's good to see Goodale called on it; the question now is whether Canadians will pay attention to the critique.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Disputed waters

CBC reports on another challenge to a long-disputed area which we may assume to be under Canada's control - and this one is a slightly bigger issue than Hans Island:
France wants control over a large section of oil-rich seabed in the Atlantic Ocean just off Newfoundland in what would be a controversial "leapfrog" over Canadian waters, according to a newspaper report.

The proposed area of French control, contained in a document presented to an international panel, is beyond the jurisdiction of Canada's current 320-kilometre limit, says the National Post...

An author of the report outlining France's possible claim for the portion of the continental shelf said he hopes Canada will file a counterclaim for the stretch of seabed, where "strong hydrocarbon prospects abound."

"It becomes a legal, political and diplomatic issue as to whether France can leapfrog Canadian waters," said Ron Macnab, a Canadian director with the Advisory Board of the Law of the Sea...

The document argues that since being hit hard by the collapse of its fishing industry, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon are testing the rights of all coastal states and their territorial waters.

It says the French possession and similar "shelf-locked states" could invoke aspects of the Law of the Sea to create "an extended continental shelf" and thus "claim their share of the common heritage of mankind."
While it's never a great position to have to be involved in a test case, it doesn't look like Canada has much choice on this one. The previous arbitration won by France would appear to put it in a fairly strong position, though I'd hope there would be some impact to the apparent fact that the challenge is an attempt to avoid the application of an already-negotiated international standard. If not, then Canada may be left absorbing a lot of environmental risk associated with French oil development. And that hardly seems the most reasonable way to handle the "common heritage of mankind".

Appointment delayed

The Globe and Mail covers the effect that an election will have on the Supreme Court selection process:
An advisory committee, now in the process of trimming Mr. Cotler's list of six candidates to three, has not completed its work, so a quick nomination before an election call is very unlikely.

The group was supposed to report back to Mr. Cotler this week with its short list, but they asked for, and were given, an extension of their deadline to Nov. 30...

In theory, Mr. Cotler would have the legal right to name a new judge during the campaign, even before he gets the advice of the committee. However, that would go against established practice, which says major government appointments should not be made during an election.

In any event, officials in the minister's office say that won't happen.
As noted by the article, any delay in naming a 9th member won't have an overly harmful effect on the Supreme Court, as it's functioned with less than a full complement of judges many times before. But even if the court itself will get along just fine, it'll be interesting to see how the lack of a newly-appointed justice will affect the campaign itself.

It seems all too likely that the vacancy, combined with the example set by recent U.S. elections, will lead to campaigning based on arguments about who deserves to be appointed to the bench (if in general rather than specific terms). And that's all the more so with Vic Toews still chirping about including public testimony as part of future confirmation processes.

It'll be a shame if the process is brought to a halt without an appointment...and there'll be plenty of reason to argue about who's responsible if that happens. (Hint: there'd be ample opportunity to consider the committee's findings between November 30 and early January.) But the last thing the Canadian political system needs is to follow the U.S. in tying party policy to judicial appointments. And it may be easy to tell which parties are concerned with keeping the judiciary above the political fray based on how they handle the vacancy in their campaigns.

Nicely timed

A good chunk of corporate Canada is now demanding action on climate change:
In a seismic shift for the business community, some of Canada's most influential corporate leaders have issued a call for stronger action to fight climate change beyond the Kyoto protocol.

In a letter to Prime Minister Paul Martin obtained by The Canadian Press, the heads of such companies as Alcan, Shell Canada, Bombardier, Power Corp. and Business Depot, come out solidly in support of the controversial climate treaty.

And they urge that Canada's climate-change plan extend beyond the 2008-2012 time frame of the Kyoto protocol.
And lest anybody think the CEOs involved would demand purely private-sector solutions rather than government action:
In their letter to Martin, the CEOs say their companies are already working to reduce greenhouse emissions and to minimize the adverse impact of climate change, but need policy certainty to guide action for post-2012.

"We need a strategy now for the next 50 years, with short and medium-term targets to guide us. Governments must set clear markers along the way to unleash competitive market forces and allow the discovery of a long-term value for carbon emission reductions.

"Only then will we secure the deep reductions needed to prevent human interference with the climate system."
It shouldn't escape mention that the CEOs have rightly concluded that the current Liberal "plan" on Kyoto falls short of policy certainty that would allow for meaningful change. And it's a shame that the current regime is so far behind the curve on any real Kyoto plan when even much of the business community has started to realize the dangers of inaction.

However, there's still very good news in the CEOs going public with their request. At the very least, the business community consensus is the type of agreement that may be able to prod even the Liberals into doing something an election cycle or two down the road. And perhaps more importantly with a campaign about to get underway, the letter highlights one of the many ways in which the NDP's focus on sustainability fits with the demands of the CEOs in particular, as well as the interests of the Canadian economy generally.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Poll vaulting

Apparently Robert's estimate was on the low side, as yet another poll came out today (this time from Decima) with some very interesting results:
Here's how the latest Decima numbers break down.

First, the horse race: Liberals 33 per cent, Conservatives 26, NDP 22, and Bloc Quebecois 13...

Decima also asked respondents how election timing would influence their voting behaviour.

Under a January-February election scenario, Liberal support actually rose a point to 34 per cent, the Conservatives remained static at 26 and the New Democrats fell two points to 20 per cent.

Some 58 per cent overall said they'd prefer an election in late March or early April - Prime Minister Paul Martin's preferred timetable. Just 28 per cent said they wanted a January or February date.
The biggest news is yet another jump in general approval for the NDP. But there are also some bizarre countervailing forces at work: based on the results of this poll, 2 per cent of all voters support the NDP generally, but won't back the party if gets its request for a February election.

It's not surprising that people want to avoid an election generally, and I presume that's the main reason for the difference in numbers between the NDP and its election policy. But it's anybody's guess as to whether Canadians will ultimately let the election timing affect their votes once the campaign gets underway. And if so, then the current politicking may well be a decisive factor as voters choose who to blame for an election.

Advice to ignore

John Geddes takes his shot at analyzing the impending election:
New Democrats are looking way past last year's disappointment for cautionary tales. They recall all too vividly how voters effectively punished them for propping up Liberal minorities in the early sixties and seventies. After using their House leverage to in├čuence policy, New Democrats watched the Liberals bounce back at their expense. Could Layton's success last spring in reshaping the Liberal budget similarly fail to boost his party's ballot box clout? Jamie Heath, Layton's communications director, admits that is a real possibility. And an even more sustained negative Liberal campaign, designed to stoke voter fears about the Conservatives, seems to heighten the prospect of the NDP losing visibility in a highly polarized race. "It's consistent with the Liberal Party of Canada's approach over many years," Heath said.

Nobody is hoping the NDP avoids that fate more than the Conservatives. Perhaps the most intriguing part of Tory strategy is what the party's strategists hope Harper will not have to do -- if Layton plays the role they hope he will. "A dream campaign for us is if the NDP can stay consistent -- and, Lord, please help them -- in attacking the Liberals every day on health care," said one senior Conservative. "We'll take care of attacking them on Gomery." The idea is that Layton has credibility when it comes to defending public health, which Harper lacks -- especially with Alberta's Tory government making untimely noises about health reforms that would shift toward more private care.
Now, if the statement from the Con strategist could be taken as a promise (i.e. that the Cons would talk about nothing but Gomery if the NDP would talk about nothing but health care), this would be an awfully tempting strategy for the NDP. But of course, neither party will want to be so limited in its scope of discussion. And in any event, this isn't the time for the NDP to start taking Conservative advice.

While health should indeed be one of the party's primary areas of attack, those attacks can't focus on only one other party. The NDP needs to use its credibility advantage on the issue to make clear not only that the Liberals have failed miserably, but also that the Cons would be at least as likely to do the same.

Moreover, there are larger governance issues than Gomery alone. Indeed, the health care issue itself is another symptom of the greater problems with a government which is eager to spend money but unwilling to take responsibility for its actions.

To capitalize on the bigger issue, the NDP's campaign needs to highlight the party's superior fiscal track record, and make clear that it's the party most interested in holding all future governments to high standards. If that position can stay in the headlines in contrast to a Conservative attack based narrowly on criticizing PMPM over the Gomery findings, then the NDP's current climb in the polls could be just the beginning.

Setting the terms

The political maneuvering continues, as the opposition has found a way to push any non-confidence vote past the impending first ministers' meeting:
Federal opposition parties said yesterday they would resist the temptation to topple the minority Liberal government when it brings forward two personal tax cuts contained in its election-style economic update. Instead, the Conservatives and the NDP will proceed with a no-confidence motion next week to trigger a winter election...

So instead of being defeated on a popular tax-cutting initiative, the government will likely fall as a result of a Conservative motion next week that will say the government has lost the confidence of the House of Commons. The motion could be introduced as early as Tuesday, but the opposition parties will likely wait another two days, which would prevent them from being blamed for cancelling a first ministers meeting on aboriginal affairs scheduled for Nov. 24-25.

The actual vote on the motion probably wouldn't take place until Nov. 28 or 29. Election campaigns must be at least 36 days long and elections must be held on a Monday, so that would mean a Jan. 9 vote, or Jan. 16 if the parties take a break from campaigning over Christmas.

Mr. Layton still plans to introduce a motion tomorrow thurs asking Prime Minister Paul Martin to agree to call an election in early January for mid-February. If the Liberals agree, the Conservatives would not move their confidence motion next week. But Mr. Martin has made it clear that is not an option.
Well played so far, as the delay not only avoids interfering with the first ministers meeting, but also allows a few government bills (including the one on heating relief) to be fast-tracked in the meantime. And that possibility of fast-tracking will highlight the contrast between priorities which are actually important enough for the Liberals to push forward, and which ones were idly presented in an attempt to shame the opposition into holding off on a confidence vote.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

More fun with priorities

Remember the urgent purchase of military aircraft that couldn't afford to wait for a full public tendering process? Apparently some things are more urgent than others:
The federal government has delayed a $12-billion purchase of military aircraft until after the next election, deferring political fallout over buying foreign products, The Canadian Press has learned...

“It’s unanimous — we’re not moving with it now,” a government official said on condition of anonymity.

“We’re not moving with this before an election.

“It’s all on the basis of the ferocious lobbying by industry. It’s all Toronto-Montreal-Bombardier politics.”
While the Con take on this will surely be one of military weakness, the more important theme is that of good governance. The government's refusal to apply the full tendering process indicates that getting good value with public money isn't apparently a top Liberal priority. That's bad enough in itself, but it becomes downright inexcusable when contrasted with a willingness to reach the opposite conclusion based solely on a desire to avoid political fallout.

Once again, image ranks above substance when it comes to the Libs' policy choices. And that's a fact that needs to be pointed out when Canadians decide who they want managing the public purse.

Unretired debts

No wonder the Liberals aren't eager to see any positive pension reform, as it comes out today that some of the recent surpluses reflect money siphoned out of public pension plans - and that the money was taken out only a few years after the same workers' premiums were raised out of financial need:
Public service unions began a court battle on Tuesday to require the federal government to repay billions of surplus dollars taken from pension funds.

To get access to workers' funds, the government changed the law on pension surpluses in the late 1990s. The move made its financial position look better, at least in accounting terms, although its obligations to employees and retirees did not change...

One of the plaintiffs is the Professional Institute of the Public Service, whose president, Michele Demers, says the government slashed jobs, put a freeze on wages and increased pension premiums in the 1990s. She says pension money was never supposed to be used to help the government out of a financial jam...

Jose Aggrey, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, says private-sector employers generally don't have access to pension money, and neither should the federal government.
This seems to be one more clear indication that the Liberals' reputation for fiscal management is merely a reflection of their ability to find ways to turn unrelated programs into general revenue funds. (See Insurance, Employment.) Hopefully added public knowledge of the tactic will push a few more Liberals toward having to make use of their own pensions.

On throwing away supporters

Thomas Walkom comments on the unhappy marriage that is the Conservative Party...and the former PC members who were left behind in the process:
In theory, (the Conservative Party) should be riding high. The 2003 union of the old Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance created, on paper at least, a viable right-of-centre alternative to the Liberals of Prime Minister Paul Martin.

However, reality has not lived up to the promise. Even the release last week of the Gomery report, with its detailed litany of kickbacks and corruption inside the Liberal party's Quebec wing, has given the Conservatives and their leader Stephen Harper little traction.

And while analysts blame the stiff and uncharismatic Harper for his party's failures, the roots of the problem are much deeper.
Give it a read.

All too true

Paul Wells comments on the impending election, featuring in particular this gem:
One last thing. The fourth Liberal theme I identify above -- the gullibility of New Democrat voters -- has bugged me for a long time. I don't write much about it lately because (full disclosure) my girlfriend now works for the NDP. But what the heck: if you like the New Democrats but you vote for the Liberals to stop Harper, you profoundly deserve to wind up with a Conservative MP. You're just as likely to wind up with a Liberal who won't do a thing about your issues until he suckers you in the next election. One question we're about to answer is whether the opportunists are the only people in this country with the courage of their convictions.
As noted by Wells, the health privatization fiasco is a great example of the Libs' ultimate refusal to stand up for their supposed core values. But I'm not sure they've ever been quite this brazen in putting politics over policy...meaning that while there is a danger of possible NDP votes flocking to the Libs again, there's also a real opportunity to hold PMPM's record against him.

(Edited to include my comment.)

Monday, November 14, 2005

Timber

The U.N. released a report on global forestry management today...and the best that can be said is that the destruction of forests is only marginally less bad than a decade ago:
Taking into account plantations, landscape restoration and the natural expansion of some forests, the FAO said the net loss of forest area between 2000-2005 was some 7.3 million hectares a year against 8.9 million hectares in the 1990-2000 period.

FAO officials hailed the improvement in the net loss figure, saying China in particular had embarked on a major tree-growing program to provide timber for its construction boom and to tackle the process of deforestation...

South America suffered the largest net loss of forests between 2000 and 2005 -- around 4.3 million hectares per year -- followed by Africa, which lost 4 million hectares annually.
While this may be one of the few areas where China is managing to be an environmental leader, the global outlook is still nothing short of frightening - particularly since, as pointed out in the article, the definition of "forest" means that the study doesn't account for the replacement of dense natural forests with sparse plantations. And even with that generous definition, net deforestation is still proceeding at a rate .4% of the world's forests each year. (Somehow, the FAO claims that to be a positive.)

If this is an improvement, it's only a sign that past policy was even more reckless...but unfortunately, it doesn't look like many states are taking the lead in trying to undo the damage.

Say the right things, we're electioneering

It's amazing that some seem to honestly believe that this is the result of an "autumn accounting" rather than an attempt to make up for a decade of neglect just in time for an inevitable election. The mini-budget is a predictable combination of policies co-opted from across the spectrum, with ample room to criticize the corporate tax measures as unnecessary.

As for the more worthwhile portions, there are still important questions to be answered. For example, did it really take the Libs 11 years (and an NDP-negotiated budget last year) to figure out that the cost of university education is a barrier to entry? Did they manage to rule for a decade before noticing that the lack of resources to support new immigrants is a problem in need of attention?

(And why do I have a nagging feeling that the answer is "yes" to both of the above?)

Of course, there's a more important question underlying the whole process. Namely, will the Canadian public have a short enough attention span to give the Liberals credit for ignoring such important issues in the past? We don't know the answer to that one yet, but the success of the NDP's election campaign will depend on the public's conclusion.

Well put

Rafe Mair writes on Peak Oil:
What we do know is this - we are approaching a petroleum Armageddon. What we don't know is when it will become a world-class crisis.

What we also know, sadly, is that no government sees past the next election so that nothing will be done until the very last moment. Unless plans are made and implemented, when "too late" arrives, it's not going to be pretty.
While I disagree with Mair to the extent that at least some governments are working to get the jump on renewable energy, there's little doubt that the ones with the ability to make the most difference have failed utterly so far. Give it a read.

Looking outward

It's being met with some resistance on both sides, but Canada and Japan are now looking at closer economic co-operation:
Canada and Japan are moving closer to free-trade talks, sources say, with both countries now ready to sign an economic co-operation deal and launch a joint study that Ottawa believes will lead to full-fledged negotiations.

The framework deal ready to be inked would strengthen economic co-operation between Canada and Japan, while the joint study -- expected to take up to one year -- would probe the benefits of further liberalization of trade and investment rules between the countries...

The economic framework deal would promote closer Canada-Japan co-operation on matters including society, security, anti-competitive activities, food safety, customs, transportation, investment, science and technology, electronic commerce, energy and natural resources and tourism promotion.
It's apparently taken a wake-up call on both sides to get the initiative going, as Canada's softwood lumber dispute with the U.S. coincided with Japan's need to react to much stronger competition from India and China. The economic framework in particular should be nothing but a plus for both states, and it'll be all the better if a future free-trade deal can open up some new markets for Canada.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Protesting injustice

CBC reports on a creative effort to call attention to the softwood lumber dispute:
Two boys from Alberta and B.C. are organizing a one-day boycott of McDonalds restaurants to pressure Washington over the softwood lumber dispute...

"It concerns all of Canada and I've been interested for some time about justice issues," said Luke, 10, who has set up a website, called We Want Our Money Back, urging a Dec. 3 boycott.

They condemned U.S. President George W. Bush and his administration for refusing to respect several NAFTA rulings supporting Canadian claims that the tariffs were illegal – including a recent one by an international panel whose rulings were supposed to be binding in disputes under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
I'll accept the point of McDonalds Canada that the boycott doesn't seem particularly closely related to the dispute - even if the U.S. lumber producers benefitting from the tariffs don't themselves sell much in Canada, one would think that (say) a hardware chain would at least seem closer to the mark. But if nothing else, the two boys involved are taking more meaningful action than either the federal government or the official opposition have even proposed on the issue.

Fighting back against SLAPPs

I commented last week on some current problems with access to justice. Today, the CP reports on another case where the existing litigation process stacks the deck against all but the wealthiest of citizens:
A stay-at-home mother of three who created a website to alert the government about allegedly dangerous environmental problems in her southwestern Ontario neighbourhood is facing a $2 million libel suit by one of the developers she reported on.

Louisette Lanteigne of Waterloo, Ont., said she grew sick of what she saw during construction in her new subdivision and what appeared to be questionable building practices and labour-code violations...

The statement of claim outlines stories by Lanteigne involving diesel oil spills on subdivision sites, unlocked oil tanks, roofers working without proper safety equipment and possible contamination of soil and water.
There should be exceedingly little chance of the plaintiff being able to recover anywhere near the claimed amount even if it's able to prove that some of the stories were false. But as the article notes, the real issue is with the cost of litigation, as Lanteigne will bear the burden of paying for her own defence even if everything she's said proves to be justified. And it's particularly unfair for Lanteigne to bear all the costs when Ontario's Environment Minister has acknowledged the public good that comes from Lanteigne's reporting.

Lanteigne deserves nothing but credit for her efforts to bring the truth to light. But as important as it is to expose any problems in the local development, she may have an even more positive long-term impact if her story causes the government which benefits from those efforts to provide some protection to its citizen watchdogs.

The power and perils of bias

No evidence of right-wing bias or insufficient research here, nosiree. From the National Post's article on blogs:
Redstate.org is one of the most popular right-wing blogs in the U.S. Its lefty version is Americablog.com.

Others with high traffic include instapundit.com, dailycoast, powerlineblog.com, littlegreenfootballs.com and the Huffingtonpost. These blogs are essentially electronic newsletters about politics with large, open-ended letters to the editor pages where everyone's "letter" gets published, or posted.
While there's a slight numerical bias toward right-wing blogs (whither TPM and Eschaton?), that could probably be forgiven if it weren't for two other important factors.

Most obviously, I'm not aware of any "dailycoast" blog, and you'd think even an NP writer could be bothered to visit the top left-wing blog in the U.S. in order to get its name right. Second and more subtly, note that all of the right-wing blogs include the full URL to allow readers to find them immediately, while the left-wing blogs in the latter paragraph don't receive that courtesy. In following all the readily-available links in the article, you'd think the U.S. blogosphere was dominated by the right wing...when of course that's far from the truth.

Mind you, the NP article seems dubious about whether the listed blogs have much of a positive effect in any event. So the writer can surely claim she doesn't want to be subject to the scrutiny of having their facts and biases checked publicly. Fortunately, she doesn't have any choice in the matter.