Saturday, August 19, 2006

Lowered expectations

Amid all the hype about Michael Ignatieff's soon-to-be-announced environmental plan, it's worth noting that Ignatieff appears to be wrongly buying into the Cons' claim that Canada's Kyoto commitments aren't worth keeping:
Michael Ignatieff's environmental plan, to be released Monday, calls for a “polluter pays” system that would include lower taxes at the pumps for consumers who use greener fuel.

The perceived front-runner in the Liberal leadership race will also concede that Canada cannot meet the Kyoto Protocol's target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 6 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012.

Instead, his plan would reduce Canada's carbon dioxide emissions to at least 50 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050, with interim targets set for each decade, according to a senior campaign official familiar with the plan.
It's not clear how such a plan is supposed to present any meaningful opposition to Harper and the Cons, who have generally assumed a similar effect to be reached through miraculous technological steps with no encouragement from a public policy perspective. But it's glaringly clear that Ignatieff is perfectly willing to buy into Harper's defeatism to at least some extent while ignoring both the commitment Canada's government made in ratifying Kyoto, and the readily available and cost-neutral policy ideas which would put Canada on a path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions now. Which means that the possibility of an Ignatieff win is looking more likely by the day to boost the NDP's fortunes as the sole party willing to actually take a truly progressive stance.

More selective jurisdiction

Vic Toews tries to explain how extending the criminal law process to 10-year-olds won't necessarily result in children that young being sent to criminal training. But in doing so, he seems rather happy to use the criminal law as a response to perceived failings on areas which should plainly be the responsibility of the provinces:
When young people fall victim to the criminal element before they reach 12 years of age, it represents a failure of the justice system and the social services that governments provide...

In some cases, young people have had extensive police and social service interaction before age 12. For these youth, the justice system has no mechanism to ensure that they get the treatment they need. To prevent them from falling through the cracks, we need to discuss whether the courts should have some legal recourse to intervene in a positive fashion.
In other words, Toews tries to justify getting the criminal law involved earlier because of a view that social services aren't currently addressing the needs of such youths. But apparently it would be too easy to deal with such a deficiency by talking with the provinces to try to ensure that appropriate resources exist to provide the needed services. Instead, Toews' solution is not only to raise the spectre of criminal prosecutions for the youths involved, but also to impose his vision of social services on the provinces (and without any additional funding to help provinces meet that obligation).

Once again, the Cons apparently have no interest in respecting either side of the actual constitutional division of powers except where it fits their ideological purposes. Sometimes that means imposing massive burdens on the provinces without any support; others it means claiming helplessness when a federal program causes direct harm to workers. But either way, it's not a situation that either provinces or Canadians generally should be willing to abide.

(Edit: fixed link.)

On progress

The pattern of good news in Saskatchewan health care continues, as Saskatchewan Health reports a major reduction in the province's waiting lists:
The number of patients sitting on surgical waiting lists in the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region and Saskatoon dropped by nearly 1,600 last year compared to 2004-05, the report states, noting in 2005-06 the two regions completed about 2,000 more surgeries than the previous year.

The annual report also indicates the seven largest regions performed more than 19,000 surgeries in the first three months of this year, an increase year-over-year of nearly 1,000 cases...

Sask. Health has also made some headway in improving access to diagnostic imaging services last year. Since March 2004 the total number of people waiting for an MRI has decreased provincially by 35.6 per cent.

According to the department's annual report the province increased the number of MRI exams it performs by 22 per cent last year for a total of more than 19,600 and increased its CT exam capacity by 14,400 for a total of about 105,000 or a 16-per-cent increase over the previous year.
With the increased capacity within the system obviously being used to great effect, it looks like the province's waiting lists will be reduced to almost nothing in the public health-care system well before it would even be possible to add a competing private system to supposedly speed up the process. Kudos to Sask Health for having made so much progress to date. And while there's still much to be done, I for one look forward to seeing just how much better yet the system will work in the future once today's investments have had time to fully take effect.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Nicely done

Not a bad day's work for the NDP, as the party along with housing groups has managed to force the Cons to reverse their apparent attempt to wriggle out of funding the SCPI, even as the Dippers found time to point out just how far the Libs are from being a real progressive alternative. I only worry that somebody at Burger King will worry about having the good name of the Whopper sullied by association with the Libs.

On principles

Since the softwood lumber deal seems to be headed down to the wire, there's no time like the present to keep pointing out the folly of entering into the deal from Canada's perspective. Having already dealt with the problems with the process here, let's take a look at the principles at stake - and how Harper has managed to sell Canada out on all counts.

The two main issues are free trade and other principles of fair treatment, and Canadian sovereignty. The dispute as currently phrased arises entirely out of alleged tension between the two: CFLI claims that Canada's sovereign choices as to forestry policy impede on its members' right to be treated fairly in matters of international trade. And no matter how many panels rule otherwise, CFLI has consistently kept a stream of allegations of preferential treatment before the U.S. Commerce Department, which has in turn happily ignored higher rulings to order duties to make up for supposed advantages held by Canadian producers.

(Not that CFLI or another pressure group wouldn't likely find another excuse to try to suppress imports if this weren't the most obvious one. But that's a story for the next round of litigation.)

But then, the alleged "advantages" to Canadian producers in the form of lower stumpage fees come at a price, including benefits to workers and tax differences. In other words, Canadian governments have decided to take a lesser amount in stumpage fees in exchange for other social benefits. And NAFTA tribunals have consistently concluded that this exercise of legitimate authority doesn't give rise to any valid retaliation on the part of the U.S.: that Canada's choice to exercise its sovereign will doesn't make for an unfair playing field.

But then the Cons stepped in.

One can dispute all day long which is the more important principle: Roy McLaren takes the position that free trade should trump all, while I tend to the view that the more important question is the ability of Canadian policymakers to make meaningful decisions rather than having their hands tied. But there shouldn't be any doubt that whichever of the principles one wants to value most, the deal agreed to by the Cons is an unmitigated disaster.

On the free-trade side, the deal is substantially worse than the status quo. Rather than being able to trade fairly freely subject only to whatever U.S. duty is in force at any given time, Canadian producers will now be subject to specific limitations on the amount of lumber they're able to send south of the border, in addition to facing an export tax and other restrictions. In sum, the deal amounts to a trade suppression agreement - which is rightly raising the ire of those who fully believe in unfettered free trade.

On the sovereignty side, the deal limits the freedom of action by Canadian provinces through the much-discussed "veto" over forestry policy changes. But perhaps even more importantly, it involves a Canadian concession to the position that anything which in any way deviates from U.S. policy must be in some way wrong.

In the comments to this post, Olaf asked why Canada couldn't simply adopt the U.S.' policies in order to resolve the existing dispute. And I've wondered to some extent whether a similar solution might work - perhaps involving an export tax in the amount of the existing duties, without the rest of the baggage that comes with the Cons' deal.

But in addition to the likely result that CFLI would only find new excuses to try to close off the border, such an action would put Canadian producers at a tangible disadvantage - unless, of course, Canada also adopted every other U.S. policy surrounding forestry, including lesser protection for workers. The question is ultimately whether Canada has any freedom to balance priorities differently from or independently of the U.S. - and both a solution based on adopting U.S. policies and the Cons' deal itself answer that question with a stark "no".

Now, Canadian policymakers are most certainly free to conclude that measures similar to those applied in the U.S. are worth applying here as well. But they equally certainly shouldn't be prevented from exercising legitimate judgment as to what type of policy to apply within the range of policies fair to all parties involved. And the effect of the Cons' sellout is to open the door for other industries to similarly challenge any area where Canada has taken an independent view as to the policies which best suit Canadian interests.

In sum, both free and fair trade and Canadian sovereignty can readily coexist. But rather than seeking an outcome that moves toward such an end, the Cons have managed to sell out Canadian interests on both issues. In the end, the partial return of money being wrongly held by the U.S. is coming only at the cost of Canada completely abandoning both of the principles at stake in the deal. And that amounts to a statement of Con principle which should make all Canadians wary of Harper and his troops.

(Edit: revised wording.)

Early returns

It may only be the beginning, but the Financial Post reports on a wave of Saskatchewan citizens who are returning from Alberta due to a similarly thriving jobs market and a substantially lower cost of living:
A campaign by Saskatchewan to lure former residents back from Alberta appears to be hitting home. In Calgary, where the housing market has surged at an astonishing rate, stories are growing increasingly common about families cashing out to return to their roots in Saskatchewan, where the jobs market has taken an upward turn and they can live mortgage-free.

"We see it as a huge trend, in any one day we'll have two or three people from Alberta in our office," said Larry Stewart, a broker with RE/MAX Saskatoon. "They're people who are coming back, quitting their jobs and finding new jobs here."...

The average sale price of a single-family home in Calgary hit $403,630 last month, which is up 32% from a year ago.

In Regina, the average residential price is $137,195.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., which tracks movement between provinces, acknowledged the rush from Saskatchewan to Alberta could be slowing.

"Theoretically, we're now considering that Alberta is on the verge of becoming the second most expensive real estate market in the country," said Richard Corriveau, a Calgary-based market analyst with the federal government's mortgage insurer.

"A family that sells their home and moves from Saskatchewan to say, Calgary, maybe has enough for a down payment -- if they'd built up some equity.

"Move from Alberta to Saskatchewan, however, and you pay cash, live mortgage-free and maybe put a couple hundred grand into your pocket. That's a pretty strong pull."
The evidence may be largely anecdotal for now, but then there's plenty of room for the phenomenon to grow - particularly if employers start to follow suit based on the lower costs of operating in Saskatchewan.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Aiding and abetting

I gave the federal Libs the benefit of the doubt and didn't throw any blame their way when Gordon Campbell decided to take a stand in favour of capitulation. But now that the predominant large-L Liberal provincial government in the country has joined those who don't think extortion is worth opposing, there isn't much room for doubt which party is actually defending Canada's interests against Harper, and which one is still looking for excuses to fold with the upper hand.

That said, whether or not the current coalition of Lib provincial governments and federal Cons is enough to push Canadian lumber producers to sign onto the deal, it's worth keeping in mind just where the Cons' deal came from, how it's been pushed so far, and what it means for the bigger-picture relationship between Canada and its current government.

Remember first that the Libs themselves had a relatively similar deal ready for an announcement last fall...which was pushed until after the election by the same minister now carrying the lead on the Cons' file based on the fact that it would be (rightly) seen as a sellout.

Once the Cons took power, they made an agreement of some sort into the sole requirement. And to make sure no pesky Canadian demands could stand in the way, the Cons took the U.S.' side and systematically excluded Canadian interests from the bargaining table, while the leading American voice was consulted throughout the negotiations.

Of course, the deal in principle still had to be hashed out. And the Cons had negotiated so poorly that the U.S. figured it was worth trying to find ways to win even more ground while filling in the details. Which, judging from the outcome, they succeeded in doing, as Canada's great "progress" now being trumpeted by Gordon Campbell included merely winning the right to study just how much the added burdens created by implementation of the agreement will harm Canadian industry.

Having predictably reached a terrible deal through this process designed to achieve agreement through a steady stream of concessions, the Cons then went about trying to sell it. After they finally realized that nobody was buying an attempt to claim the deal was actually positive, they eventually settled on their recent strategy of claiming that it's the least among evils - and publicly derided Canada's continued success in litigation as part of the process. Of course, even if the "lesser of the evils" argument were true, that could only be so due to the Cons' own threats to undermine the Canadian lumber industry if it wouldn't play along.

In light of that consistent record of the Cons siding against the Canadian lumber industry, it may well be understandable for the industry to decide the least of the evils is to accept a defeat which would have been entirely avoidable with a more reasonable government in charge - better to accept the Cons losing their shirt at the bargaining table than to find out whether Harper is crazy enough to burn their entire wardrobe out of spite.

While I still hold out hope that the industry will realize it can do better litigating for itself, PMS may ultimately succeed in finalizing the agreement - particularly now that he has Lib voices once again joining in the trained-seal chorus of "we can't do better". But even if he wins the fight he picked with his own country, that doesn't let him off the hook for causing it in the first place. And if the Libs are willing to once again side against Canada as well, then there's all the more reason for Canadian voters to start turning their eyes and their votes elsewhere.

Guilty by association

Gordon Campbell appears to be auditioning for a regular role as PMS Shill #1: first by inexplicably demanding that the federal government cut taxes and call it a fix to equalization, and now by claiming that tiny changes to the softwood lumber capitulation somehow make the deal worth supporting:
Campbell said the latest deal includes new language on:
- The B.C. market-based timber pricing system.
- Changes to the deal's technical language.
- A six-month termination clause after the agreement in force 18 months, up from the previous three months.
- New conditions if the seven-year agreement is not renewed or if the Americans bail out before it expires.
- A commitment to review the tax status of timber from privately owned lands.
- A promise for a binational panel to review the so-called running rules covering the agreement's day-to-day operations, which critics say handcuff Canadian exporters.
The latter two points appear to deal with Canada's largest substantive problems with the specific terms of the deal (leaving aside for the moment the question of why Canada wants to negotiate away any of its consistent legal victories). But the changes suggest only that our grave concerns will now be "addressed" through non-binding future commitments to review just how badly Canada gets shafted in the deal. (And we should all know just how effective similar sidelights to trade agreements have been to date.)

Meanwhile, the rest of the points appear to be nothing but tinkering around the edges: making the deal as a whole enforceable for 24 months rather than 21, a similarly slight increase in the deterrents against the U.S. terminating the deal (when the U.S. surely recognizes that it can instead simply ignore its obligations in any event), and including an additional acknowledgement of B.C.'s ability to set policy which is more than counterbalanced by the policy limitations implied by the rest of the deal.

And of course the changes do nothing to address the underlying question of why Canada would want to voluntarily hand over half a billion dollars to which CFLI has no legal entitlement in order to secure the return of part of the money which the U.S. is wrongly withholding.

Based on a combination of empty promises and insignificant changes, Campbell seems happy to forfeit his government's future ability to oversee the B.C. forestry industry. But hopefully the other provinces and producers who have opposed the softwood deal to date will recognize that Canada deserves better...and B.C. voters will reward Campbell for his ridiculous serious of recent stances by electing a government which isn't looking to undermine the province's ability to act at every turn.

Update: In fairness, it is tough to blame Campbell for wanting to turn attention toward the federal government in order to deflect it from the effects of his own policies.

On investment timing

The Star follows up on the Toronto implications of the Cons' apparent (though denied) decision to put an end to promised housing funding:
Earlier this year, city of Toronto officials were told they would be getting $17.3 million in the 2006-07 fiscal year under the Supporting Communities Partnership Initiative (SCPI).

But after a July meeting the amount was abruptly cut to $11.4 million, with no explanation, and there is no indication the city will get the remainder, said Phil Brown, Toronto's general manager of shelter, support and housing administration.

A contract — authorizing the city to spend the money — has not yet been signed, making it impossible for the city to sign agreements with community agencies that provides services for the homeless, he added.

"It has cast a lot of uncertainty. We've had a lot of projects ready to go," Brown said, adding the money must be spent by March 31, 2007. That makes it especially difficult to proceed with building projects including new transitional housing and the renovation of a drop-in centre...

Funding under the seven-year-old program has helped create shelter beds and permanent transitional housing as well as projects to make shelter residents job-ready and get them identification to qualify for housing and health care.
The current Con excuse is an ongoing "administrative process". At best, that claim doesn't do anything to explain the initial funding cuts - and there's no apparent reason why any administrative process should be taking this long when the Cons committed to the funding over two months ago, and when the deadline for spending the money is approaching so quickly.

Of course, that also means the Cons can succeed in undermining the purpose of the funding by obfuscating and delaying matters until it's too late to make any effective use of the money. Which is why the current public pressure is only a start to make sure that Canada's citizens who need the help the most actually get the support which the SCPI can offer.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Caught in the act

The NDP catches the Cons lying about their plans to fund a national housing initiative:
As news of widespread cuts to federal funding of housing programs across Canada is revealed, the NDP is calling on the Conservative government to immediately restore all funding to the Supporting Communities Partnership Initiative (SCPI), a federal program that funds the construction of affordable housing.

According to the City of Toronto’s Shelter Support and Housing Division, SCPI funding for the city will be cut by $5.8 million and details from the London Housing Coalition confirm that city has lost $513,000. The NDP has also learned of an impending $1 million cut to the City of Ottawa’s and a $416,000 cut in Yellowknife - a city that has been one of the hardest hit by homelessness. Details are currently being sought of potential cuts in other cities across the country.

“The Conservative government must reverse these cuts and make the funds available immediately,” said NDP Housing critic Irene Mathyssen. “Stephen Harper’s government must reassure Canadians that his government will keep its word that federal funding for housing will move forward. Canada’s most vulnerable citizens are counting on it.”

During a June 6 House of Commons committee meeting, Conservative Minister of Human Resources and Social Development Diane Finley assured the NDP’s Tony Martin that funding for the program would be extended.

According to the minutes of the Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) Committee proceedings, Finley stated: “You asked about SCPI. No problem: that's going forward. That's all been blessed and approved. We recognize the importance of these sectors and the dependence they have on federal funds.”
Fortunately, with the NDP collecting the cities' respective grievances, it shouldn't take long to mount a concerted effort to make sure the Cons don't lose sight of the importance of housing again. But with the Cons evidently showing no more respect for their than for their parliamentary promises than for their campaign commitments, there's all the less reason for Canadians to trust them in the future.

On unwanted development

The good news from the AP is that at least one industry is downright thriving in Afghanistan. The bad news is that not surprisingly, it's the industry which Canada's forces are supposed to be eradicating:
Opium cultivation in Afghanistan has hit record levels — up by more than 40 percent from 2005 — despite hundreds of millions in counternarcotics money, Western officials told The Associated Press...

A Western anti-narcotics official in Kabul said about 370,650 acres of opium poppy was cultivated this season — up from 257,000 acres in 2005 — citing their preliminary crop projections. The previous record was 323,700 acres in 2004, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime...

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime estimate that opium accounted for 52 percent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product in 2005...

This year's increased poppy cultivation follows a 21 percent drop the previous year, suggesting the government has not followed through on warnings to farmers against planting poppies. Although 37,065 acres of poppies were eradicated this year, according to the Ministry for Counternarcotics, a campaign by police to destroy crops fell short of expectation.
From the article, it's not entirely clear whether the Karzai government has backed away from its previous interest in working with drug traffickers to try to rebuild the country. But it's beyond question that to the extent that Canada's role is based in part on an attempt to control opium production, the reality on the ground has only been getting worse. And with the profits from the resulting production likely to make Canada's other objectives more difficult as well, it's getting less and less likely that Canada's military sacrifices will have any positive long-term influence either at home or in Afghanistan itself.

On reviews

While the fallout from PMS' refusal to attend the International AIDS Conference continues, the Cons' highest-ranking representative at the conference is also earning well-deserved criticism for his insincerity on the file:
Clement said the government intends "to do this comprehensively, do it rationally to get some good information and advice because really this is our first opportunity as a new government to consider this legislation."

But Stephen Lewis, the United Nations special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, was skeptical of when the review will be held.

"This gives new meaning to the word immediate. They were elected eight months ago. If this is the nature of their particular dictionary, I wouldn't trust any word."

If there was a sense of urgency about it, the review would already have happened six months ago, he said.

"We've lost another six months, in other words, and now we'll lose even more time."
At the very least, Canada can be proud to be home to one of the leading figures in the effort to fight AIDS. And it's certainly a plus to see another prominent voice highlighting the gap between rhetoric and action from the Cons. It's just a shame that Lewis' role is limited to a diplomatic one, particularly compared to the consistent disinterest by both Lib and Con governments.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Slowly learning

Saskatchewan's Con MPs appear to have figured out the seemingly-obvious truth that repudiating campaign promises doesn't tend to have positive results:
Conservative MPs from Saskatchewan are urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper to keep the party's campaign promise on federal equalization payments.

If he doesn't, according to a letter signed by Saskatchewan Conservative caucus chair Brian Fitzpatrick that was leaked to the media, it will cause "no end of political difficulty" in the next election.
Of course, Fitzpatrick's realization doesn't mean PMS will stop taking Saskatchewan for granted and follow through on the party's campaign commitments. But it does mean that Saskatchewanians now have the Cons' own words to turn against them if Harper decides that keeping his promise isn't a priority.

Excuses, excuses

As an update to this post, you know the Cons recognize they've screwed up when they start reciting random, inconsistent excuses this quickly:
“Suffice to say, (Foreign Affairs officials) don't feel the timing is right,” Mr. Del Mastro said Tuesday.

“They don't object to the trip, they don't object to the initiatives of the trip, they don't object to the agenda of the trip, it's just the timing of the trip.

“It's not the best time for that type of agenda I suppose. I'm going to respect their opinion.”

However, Mazen Chouaib, executive director of the National Council of Canada-Arab Relations, said Mr. Del Mastro had a different story when he called to cancel Monday evening.

Mr. Chouaib said the MP told him the Prime Minister's Office had security concerns about the trip and asked him to withdraw.

Mr. Chouaib said he didn't buy that explanation.
Now, if Del Mastro actually planned to stick with the new justification, one would think he'd at least mention what about the timing would justify putting off the trip. But it appears more likely that Del Mastro wants to leave open the option of spinning the Cons' Wheel of Specious Excuses again tomorrow rather than pretending there's an explanation worth sticking with. Which only highlights the pointlessness of the original decision, as there obviously wasn't enough thought put into it to allow Del Mastro to have a tenable reason for it now.

On security concerns

The Cons' complete disinterest in engaging with reality takes another turn for the worse, as Con MP Dean Del Mastro has withdrawn from the planned multi-party fact-finding mission to Syria and Lebanon:
The Conservative government has withdrawn from an all-party trip to Beirut and other Middle East capitals.

MP Dean Del Mastro, who had been the government's liaison with Canada's Lebanese community, was to join Liberal, Bloc and New Democrat MPs for the trip starting Tuesday.

Accompanying MPs as principal organizer is Mazen Chouaib, executive director of the National Council of Canada-Arab Relations.

Chouaib says Del Mastro told him he could no longer go because the Prime Minister's Office has security concerns.
One wonders how it is that the PMO didn't determine until the past day or so that Lebanon and Syria may not be the safest places on the face of the planet. But then, the risk faced by the parliamentary delegation has to be far lower than that encountered daily by Lebanese civilians thanks to actions which Harper has gone out of his way to defend.

Which may go a long way toward explaining Harper's real reason for not wanting his MP to participate. As long as Del Mastro stays at home, PMS can claim that the reports from the trip are tainted by partisan bias, and argue that the damage wrought on Lebanese civilians is being overstated by opposition members. The PMO's real "security concern" is likely the danger of allowing a party member to be exposed to the facts which MPS wants to deny - though it remains to be seen just how long the Cons can hole up in their bubble against intrusion by the real world.

A pattern of victory

Canada has won yet another round of softwood litigation, this time before a WTO appeal court on the question of whether the U.S. can ignore sales above Canada's domestic prices in calculating duties:
A WTO appeal panel has overturned an earlier ruling that upheld the U.S. Commerce Department's right to use a method called zeroing in determining anti-dumping duties levied on Canadian lumber imports.

In simple terms, zeroing tosses out cross-border lumber sales above Canadian domestic prices, which Canada argues artificially inflates the anti-dumping duty the Americans can impose.

Canada won its argument initially but the WTO sided with the Americans in an appeal last May.

Now the world body has reversed itself and ruled the practice of zeroing illegal.
Needless to say, the ruling should only highlight the fact that following through with litigation continues to hold the potential for far better results for Canada's industry than accepting Harper's capitulation. And the downside is at worst comparable considering the degree to which Harper's giveaway would shackle Canadian policymakers looking to support the industry in the future. The decision is between continuing with a winning strategy or unnecessarily conceding defeat - and for now it looks like Canada's producers will end up making the right choice.

Reporting by analogy

The Globe and Mail reports on the fallout from a a trip taken by two high-level federal advisers to study privatization in the UK, featuring high costs, cancelled meetings with British departments, and apparent plagiarism and fabrication in the final report. Though in fairness, that type of shoddy return on investment might well provide the most accurate possible summary of the outcome of further privatization.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Worth a read

Rafe Mair asks why the precautionary principle isn't given its due place in environmental management when we recognize its importance elsewhere:
Why do we insist that commercial airlines, big and small, constantly prove the airworthiness and safety of their planes?

Right wing philosophers would argue that companies will always police themselves because it's just good business. But we know that's not true. Left to their own devices, companies will fudge, take just a little bit of a chance, have that pilot fly just an hour or two more.

Airlines don't like the involvement of government, i.e. the public, because it sets standards that, to the industry, seem unreasonably high. But governments, with the public behind them, demand that the "precautionary principle" be adopted and the onus be on airlines to constantly prove their safeness and not on the public to demonstrate the opposite.

That principle must apply to government and industry that use the environment to ply their trade.
Give it a look.

Going to the polls

It's great to see the CP contrast two polls on the Middle East to demonstrate the lengths to which Harper supporters have to go in order to try to claim public support. It's just a shame the article tries to be somewhat neutral when Compas' methodology, questions and subsequent interpretation are all so comically off base - but there shouldn't be much doubt who's actually seeking to measure public opinion, and who's out to distort it.

False opposition

CBC follows up on one of the less-reported aspects of Harper's trip up north, pointing out PMS' call for the U.S. to finally sign on to the Law of the Sea Convention:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called on the United States to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which would signal recognition of Canada's sovereignty over its Arctic coastal waters...

The Law of the Sea, which originated in the 1970s and was revised in the early 1990s, recognizes a 200-nautical-mile, or 370-kilometre, exclusive economic zone off a country's coast. While 150 nations have ratified the treaty, the U.S. Congress has refused to do so.
In principle, it would certainly be a plus for the U.S. to finally agree to follow the rules that govern countries generally. But there's no reason to assume that its present narrow orientation (supported by Harper when it comes to global warming) will give way to a new recognition of multilateralism based solely on a call from Harper. And since PMS has also signalled that he's more than willing to relieve the U.S. of its international obligations in exchange for what he perceives to be positive PR, there doesn't appear to be much upside for Canada even if Harper could convince the U.S. to play along.

Of course, the Cons may well see the U.S.' likely disinterest as a positive outcome, presumably trying to spin the issue as an example of Harper not giving in to U.S. interests. But in reality, Harper's attempt to be seen standing up to Bush on the Law of the Sea is just as empty as his claim to be able to work with Bush by capitulating on other issues. And the ultimate lesson for Canadians should be a reminder that Harper's attempts to cozy up to the U.S. won't move Bushco an inch when it comes to issues where even Harper can't find an excuse to buckle under.

On sketchy interpretations

Both CanWest and the Star cover Canada's mediocre-to-poor rankings in the latest assessment by the Centre for Global Development. But it doesn't take a particularly close look to see which of the two sources is going out of its way to give PMS a boost in the process.

The Star covers Canada's poor environmental ranking (17th out of 21 wealthy countries) in the following passage:
Canada also fared poorly in the environment category, which looks at what rich countries are doing to reduce their disproportionate use of global resources.

High per-capita greenhouse gas emissions, relatively low gasoline taxes and generous fishing subsidies outweighed the country's main strength — that it imports hardly any wood from endangered tropical forests.
In sum, a relatively neutral assessment which doesn't seek to spin the results or draw conclusions which aren't rationally based in the report. Which unfortunately is in stark contrast to CanWest:
Canada is ranked as one of the least environmentally friendly countries, placing 17th in a new survey of 21 of the world's richest nations...

Canada's high levels of greenhouse gas emissions and its inability to implement policies to reduce them helped drag down its overall ranking.

The survey data also appears to lend credence to claims made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that inaction by the former Liberal governments has made it impossible to live up to its climate change commitments under the Kyoto protocol, a treaty that Canada has ratified.
Now, take a moment to review both articles (and for that matter the Centre for Global Development's Canada results page) to see if there's a single word to the effect that it's impossible for Canada to live up to its Kyoto commitments. (As an added bonus, check to see if there's anything in the survey to suggest that Canada has suffered from an "inability" to implement better policy rather than an "unwillingness".)

It shouldn't take long to see that the survey says nothing about whether it's possible for Canada to make progress on greenhouse gases. What it instead says is that Canada hasn't yet taken the readily available measures which could bring it in line with its Kyoto commitments, resulting in an embarrassing lack of results to date.

If anything, Canada's rankings of 17th on the environment generally and 19th with respect to greenhouse gases should lead to a recognition that Canada can do more for a relatively low cost compared to other countries who are ahead of us - not be used as an excuse to do even less. But CanWest appears to have once again decided that where logic runs contrary to the end of boosting PMS, it won't hesitate to side with the latter.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

On selective jurisdiction

The Cons are once again attempting to disguise ideology in claims of jurisdictional helplessness, as the CP reports that the federal Human Resources department is refusing to deal with the concerns of temporary immigrant workers by pretending they should be the provinces' problem:
(M)any academics, unions and non-governmental groups that assist foreign agricultural workers say the labourers often must be subservient if they want to return to Canada annually, although they enjoy exceptional salaries compared with their home-country earnings. The fact that they have basically no social ties in Canada means they are ready to work almost whenever needed.

Toronto's ecumenical group Kairos says workers often lack English or French and are isolated in rural areas, so they don't know how to protect their rights. They sometimes put up with sub-standard housing and unsafe working conditions, a Kairos report says.

Heather Gibb of Ottawa's North-South Institute says she wants the government to look at how the workers are treated.

he institute conducted a major study of similar, long-standing agriculture programs for Mexican and Caribbean workers and concluded that, while foreign workers in theory are protected by the same law as Canadians, in practice it's difficult for them to communicate their concerns or have them investigated...

Human Resources says worker concerns fall under provincial jurisdiction, but will be considered during the assessment of the program. The department acknowledges that since the Mexican and Caribbean projects began in 1966 and 1974 respectively, it has never examined how workers' concerns and complaints have been addressed.
Note that there doesn't appear to be any similar attempt to explain away responsibility for dealing with the concerns some businesses have about the scheme. But when it comes to the concerns of temporary immigrant workers themselves - whether or not there's a means of dealing with those concerns through the same program which brought the workers to Canada - the federal position seems to be one of utter disinterest. At best, the feds seem willing to "consider" the workers' interests while warning against any willingness to act...and even that's a step up from the existing legacy of ignorance.

It's not clear from the article whether the Libs invoked similar arguments or simply failed utterly to address the issue, though judging from their record the latter explanation appears more likely. But once again, the Libs' failures shouldn't serve as an excuse for the Cons to avoid responsibility for the federal government's role. To the extent that foreign workers are currently being mistreated as a result of a federal immigration program, the buck most certainly stops with the federal government. And any attempt to claim otherwise can only be judged as a show of false respect for the provinces which should cast all the more doubt on the Cons' honesty in the future.

On foul policy

While Vancouver and Toronto appear to have respectively neglected and contracted their way to sewage disposal problems, the CP reports that smaller communities are facing a severe cash crunch trying to keep their sewer infrastructure in reasonable repair:
(D)eteriorating and outdated plumbing leaves (rural municipalities who rely on septic systems) vulnerable to the risk of raw sewage seeping into rivers and storm drains that could poison water systems.

"Sewage is coming up out of the ground. Kids are playing in it," said Ken Oke, a councillor for the municipality of South Huron, which needs to install a sewer system for two of its villages.

"Their animals are walking through it. There's E.coli in the municipal drains."
One of the options for each smaller municipality is to take a five-figure bite out of each of its residents in order to fund everything on the local level. But a group of municipalities is banding together to recognize where the problem originated, and who has the resources to better address it:
(A) number of municipalities have banded together under the banner Fair Funding for Small Communities in Ontario...

The group wants the two top levels of government to change the way they fund infrastructure projects, arguing not enough attention is paid to the needs of small communities.

"We just don't have a voice," said Ralph Kreutzwiser, chairman of the group and mayor of South Bruce, where the hamlets of Formosa and Teeswater need $21 million to lay sewer lines for about 900 homes...

Ontario estimates its infrastructure deficit is at more than $100 billion.

After years of ignoring infrastructure, it's coming home to roost, said Minister of Public Infrastructure Renewal David Caplan.

"As budgets were restrained or as there were and infrastructure were often the first areas that were cut," he said, adding that the projects were usually "out of sight and out of mind."
Considering that the Cons are supposedly working on a fix to the fiscal imbalance, now would be a great time for a concerted municipal/provincial push to ensure that the added burden that was placed on municipalities throughout the '90s gets addressed with proper funding today - no matter how eager the Cons are to pretend it's not their problem. After all, a few dollars in tax cuts will surely become a rather hollow gain for those who would otherwise face a five-figure municipal bill to make up for a history of downloading.

Trust issues

I'm not sure anybody was about to accuse Gordon O'Connor of suffering from an excess of credibility. But just in case there was any doubt...

On incomplete reporting

It's been confirmed that the New York Times had a story on Bushco's illegal surveillance ready to print before the 2004 election - but declined to run the story in part based on the risk that voters might be influenced by the facts. No wonder Harper has gone to such great lengths to try to rein in the Canadian media to date in order to similarly avoid scrutiny of his own government when Canada next goes to the polls. But hopefully our press corps will remain willing to report the news when it's known, rather than buying into the argument that the media shouldn't bother reporting anything that would disturb the parties' campaign messages.


I'll grant that the need to take action to defend Canada's north is one of the few areas where the PMS administration can be seen as a genuine improvement over its predecessor. But that doesn't mean Harper is justified in prioritizing territorial politics over the global fight against AIDS. And it seems all too likely that Harper's refusal to join the cause on an issue which unites the world will only give other countries an excuse not to listen when he tries to speak for Canada - whether in defence of the Arctic, or in other international disputes.

Update: Lest there be any doubt as to whether anybody was offended by Harper's absence...