Saturday, March 03, 2007

On recycling

It's understandable that Stephane Dion is trying to reorient his public impression before the Cons' attempts to define him stick in the minds of voters. But are the Libs really any better off if he's presenting no greater vision than to keep doing what got the Libs booted out of office last year?
In Nova Scotia yesterday, Mr. Dion promised to reinstitute Liberal social programs cut by Stephen Harper's Conservatives and to forgo another planned cut to the GST...

The Liberal Leader made it clear yesterday he does not believe the Liberals lost the Jan. 23, 2006, election on their social policies.

“We will argue that there cannot be true prosperity without social justice, that good social policies make for a stronger economy. Canadians deserve to know that their federal government will be there when they need help. And they deserve a federal government willing to help them.”

He said that, if elected prime minister, he will reinstitute programs cut by the Tories, such as the multi-billion-dollar daycare subsidies negotiated by former Liberal minister Ken Dryden...

Mr. Dion said that he will reinstitute proposed funding for student assistance and university research that the Conservatives did not implement.
It's understandable that Dion is seeking to move beyond the environment as a central theme before he does too much damage to his reputation on that issue.

But a message that Dion is willing to do nothing more than what the Libs already had planned speaks poorly to his ability to contribute new ideas on social justice issues. And for both Dion individually and the Libs as a whole, a message of "same old Libs" only seems likely to continue the pattern of electoral declines which the leadership convention presumably intended to reverse.

On minimizing input

Antonia Zerbisias is once again ahead of the curve on the latest developments surrounding the CRTC, noting that while the planned CTV/CHUM merger required nine months of analysis from the Competition Bureau, the public will only get three weeks to comment on both the merger and the larger role of the CRTC:
(C)an citizens be...assured that the public interest will be protected when the CRTC begins its hearings on the deal in Gatineau on April 30?

Don't bet on it.

That's because viewers, unions, artists' groups and other non-industry parties have only 24 working days to get their interventions to the CRTC before the April 5 deadline.

In fact, they may have entirely missed Thursday's notice of the hearings, which was published without fanfare...

(T)he notice raises other very significant issues that the CRTC "may also wish to discuss" at the hearings including "concentration of ownership, cross-media ownership (horizontal integration), vertical integration, licence trafficking and tangible benefits."

Tangible benefits being the industry term for what broadcasters give back to the system in return for using the public airwaves.

Now this could be good news, or it could be bad news. It's hard to read the bureaucratese.

But the fact that there was no news release, there's little time for public input and that this came in under the radar should, you should forgive the pun, make your antennae wiggle.

Making it even more suspicious is that, just last fall, the CRTC held extensive TV policy review hearings for over-the-air stations and has yet to issue its findings. The policy review for cable TV has yet to begin.

The public has no clue what the CRTC intends with its new policies.

So how can it make an intelligent contribution to the coming CTV hearings, not to mention the CanWest-Alliance Atlantis and Astral-Standard merger hearings that will soon follow?
Given the consistent direction of the Cons in power - both with respect to the CRTC and on other issues - it's hard to see any reason to think that the planned scope could possibly be good news. Instead, it appears glaringly clear that the Cons are seeking to minimize public input both into the merger and the CRTC's longer-term role. And as Zerbisias points out, the result of such exclusion is bound to be far less consideration of the public's interests when final decisions are made in both areas.

Small steps

It's certainly a plus to note that the House of Commons Natural Resources Committee is recommending the elimination of federal tax breaks for oil and gas companies:
The Conservative government should scrap the generous tax breaks for the oil sands that some say are worth hundreds of millions annually, recommends a draft report by the Commons natural resources committee.

The report has been debated for weeks behind closed doors as MPs from the four parties in the House wrestled with the politically thorny issue of federal policy on Alberta's oil sands...

The Pembina Institute, an Alberta-based environmental group, has estimated that federal tax breaks for Canada's oil and gas industry are worth $1.4-billion a year. The institute has said the oil sands receive a significant share of those tax breaks but exact figures are impossible to find...

The report is complete and was scheduled for release yesterday, but that was pushed back by last-minute calls from the Conservatives and NDP MPs on the committee for a delay so that each party could write supplementary reports. The Conservatives are expected to disagree with some of the recommendations; the NDP is expected to say some do not go far enough.
While the report is a start, though, it's worth noting that merely eliminating tax breaks for oil and gas is only one relatively minor step toward the ultimate goal of encouraging more environmentally-responsible resource management. And hopefully the committee reviewing Bill C-30 will be able to agree on much more than just the tax break elimination to get Canada headed in the right direction.

Lacking accountability

The Ottawa Citizen reports that rather than setting up a non-partisan public-appointments commission as promised under the Accountability Act, the Cons have instead handed the commission's role over to a secretariat which doesn't allow for input from any other party:
The commission was supposed to be a patronage watchdog that would vet appointments to federal agencies, commissions and Crown corporations. It was also expected to report on how the government makes such appointments.

The act became law in December, but the Harper government has yet to establish the public-appointments commission, despite calls to follow through on its accountability agenda.

However, the government has created a similar-sounding "public-appointments commission secretariat." In January, the secretariat completed a report recommending changes to the way the Immigration and Refugee Board selects members.

New Democrat MP Paul Dewar accused Harper of undermining his own promise to improve accountability.

"The irony is that we're supposed to have a transparent public-appointments process, and what we have is a quietly set-up process that no light is being shed on, that is behind the scenes, and that is being done without any oversight at all."...

(I)t appears the secretariat will be pushing ahead with work the appointments commission was expected to do.

The government's latest fiscal estimates allocates an operating budget of $1.1 million to the secretariat for "oversight" of government appointments in the current fiscal year.
The article notes several other interesting threads surrounding the secretariat, including a series of expenditures last year before it was formally created, and its role in drafting the new, re-politicized Immigration and Refugee Board process.

But the central problem is that not only has the nonpartisan public-appointments commission not been created, but its role is now being usurped by a body entirely controlled by the Cons - effectively leaving PMS alone in charge of evaluating whether he's happy with his government's own degree of patronage. And if (as seems all too likely) the Cons have bought into the Libs' old theory that the government's word is accountability enough, we can only hope they meet the same fate for holding that wrong-headed position.

Friday, March 02, 2007

"Some of my best photo-ops are Muslim!"

I was all set to proclaim Wajid Khan's comments on the hijab/soccer controversy as the most bizarre statement any public figure would likely make on the issue.

But then John Baird opened his mouth (and was quoted in the same article):
Like everyone interviewed yesterday, Environment Minister John Baird praised the Ottawa soccer team, which walked off the field: "My own view is I was tremendously proud of the way the team and the coach handled the situation." He added that he complimented a group of young hijab-wearing Muslim women during a recent visit to a school in his Ottawa West-Nepean riding.

Falling short

It isn't the first time that Auditor General has butted heads with the Cons' choices. But Sheila Fraser's testimony yesterday hints at one of the realities that the Cons have presumably been trying to avoid, as their own record in power is now coming under scrutiny (and not measuring up to the Auditor General's standards):
Auditor-General Sheila Fraser criticized Ottawa yesterday for buying billions of dollars worth of military aircraft through a non-competitive process, while Quebec's Premier said he wants his province to obtain more benefits from the purchases.

Ms. Fraser told a parliamentary committee she will start auditing the government's recent string of military acquisitions before the end of the year, although she did not state which will be part of the probe. Her findings will come out at the end of next year...

Ms. Fraser was critical of the process being used to buy the C-17 cargo planes and the Chinook helicopters from Boeing Co., which is called an advance contract award notice, or ACAN...

"We'll have to obviously do the audit before we can comment on the current process, but as I've said earlier . . . we have taken the position that ACANs are not competitive," Ms. Fraser said.
Of course, the final results of Fraser's audit will almost certainly come too late for the next federal election campaign.

But her testimony serves both as a reminder that the Cons' actions in government won't escape scrutiny no matter how well PMS is able to control his own caucus' message, and as an indication that the Cons are falling far short of the transparency and accountability which their supporters may have hoped for. And the more the Cons try to point the spotlight on fabricated Lib transgressions while building up a strongly negative record of their own, the faster Canadian voters are likely to tire of their stay in government.

A surprising reversal

While there's been no lack of Lib flip-flops to discuss lately, the biggest one yet just surfaced on what's supposed to be Dion's signature issue:
Liberal Leader Stephane Dion retreated from his previous opposition to a carbon tax Thursday, blaming Conservative government cuts to climate change programs for forcing him to revisit his own party's environmental policies.

Dion said the proposed tax for businesses, responsible for greenhouse gas pollution linked to global warming, is among the new measures he's considering in an effort to improve his platform...

"The Sierra Club, in their last report card, said we went from hero to zero with the Conservative government regarding climate change," Dion said. "We wasted a full year before being able to do anything. So I need to revisit my own plan to make sure that it will work more speedily for Canadians in order to do our share for climate change and to have a strongest economy built on sustainability, and it's what I will do."
Now, there's nothing wrong with the mere fact that a leader or party changes a policy position - so long as there's some reasonable explanation for the initial stance, the new stance and the timing of the changeover. But in this case, such an explanation is sorely lacking on first two of those elements.

After all, Dion spent the vast majority of the last year (in which the Cons demolished as many existing emissions-reduction programs as they could find) running a leadership campaign with the environment as his primary issue - which should presumably have ensured that he was kept informed about where Canada stood in its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And it was in that same leadership campaign, where he presumably knew not much less than he does now about the Cons' actions, that Dion took a strong stand against the policy he's now looking to bring back to the table.

As a result, Dion's change in position effectively amounts to a concession that he was poorly informed and/or unduly narrow-minded on precisely the issue which won him the leadership race. And if Dion can't be counted on to have fully considered the options available on his signature issue (whether while handling the environment file personally or while running on the issue to win the Libs' leadership), there's serious reason to wonder just what he's failed to consider in other areas as well.

Update: Of course, it would be even worse if Dion were to then reverse course yet again. But that wouldn't happen, would it?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Even more unreal

In case the example pointed out this afternoon wasn't enough, the Cons again show their complete inability to distinguish between reality and fabrication. And it's even more sad in this case since the apparent purpose is to cast aspersions on a party which surely has enough of a governing record for the Cons to find something genuine rather than simply making things up.

Apparently the full resources of the government, the deepest party pockets in Canadian politics, and 13 years worth of dirty Lib laundry don't offer the Cons enough factual material to keep them from casting aspersions which can be debunked in a matter of minutes. And it's that complete disdain for reality, not the Libs' equally contrived outrage over "character assassination", which both thoroughly ties the Cons to their U.S. cousins and shows their complete unfitness for government.

Update: This should be fun. But do they have Parliamentary privilege in the South Orkney Islands?


In case anybody thought the Cons would learn anything about trying to keep their claims of support at least vaguely plausible after Al Gore rightly shot down John Baird, there's little reason for optimism. Instead, the Cons took another step toward absurdity when Diane Finley went out of her way to cite the chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board chair who just resigned over the Cons' woeful management of Canada's refugee system:
Hon. Diane Finley (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, the fact that there are vacancies is just one more example of why we need to fix it. The Liberals could not recruit people.

I am not the only one who believes there is a problem. Let me read a quote. The current chair of the IRB, Mr. Fleury, has said, “the Board could be an even more effective, efficient and ultimately fair tribunal”. That is the current chair speaking and I agree with him.
Sadly, it doesn't seem likely that Fleury will be able to respond immediately as Gore did, since his resignation doesn't take effect until March 16.

But it hardly takes a direct correction from Fleury himself to see just how far Finley had to stretch to find something to defend the Cons' record. After all, the quote amounts to a politically-neutral and indeed relatively innocuous statement of fact - effectively "this board isn't perfect", which presumably applies to any person or entity in existence (other than perhaps the Cons in their own minds). And even to find that kind of quote, Finley apparently had to stoop to misrepresenting the view of somebody who clearly can't be taken to approve of the Cons' management.

Suffice it to say that if the Cons' answers based on publicly-available information are this far removed from reality, we can only wonder just how brazenly the Cons are misinforming Canadians when it comes to information which can't be contradicted on the public record.

Ay carumba

Shorter Con environmental regulations:
"That's not enough! We demand MORE asbestos!"

We can only hope the Cons have Bart Simpson planning their electoral strategy as well as writing their environmental policy.

(Edit: added label.)

On fair-weather friends

The Financial Post reports that the Libs are likely to reverse their previous position and vote down the federal anti-scab bill which would otherwise have passed this month:
Until now, the Liberals had backed a Bloc Quebecois-sponsored bill that would deem replacement workers as illegal.

But the Liberals changed course after the Speaker of the House ruled this week that amendments to the bill that would protect the delivery of so-called essential services were deemed inadmissible.

Mario Silva, the Liberal labour critic and author of the essential services amendments, told the Financial Post yesterday that as a result of the Speaker's judgment, Stephane Dion, the Liberal Leader, has pulled his backing of the legislation.

"It means we cannot support the bill as it is," Mr. Silva said of the Speaker's ruling.

"It is still a free vote, and members will be allowed to vote as they choose. But the leadership of the party will not be supporting it."
It's worth noting just how flimsy the Libs' justification is. After all, it was precisely the same bill that made it through second reading with the Libs' support - meaning that there's no reason why the Libs' position should have changed based on concerns about the effects of the legislation. And there shouldn't be much reason to think that the same essential-service provisions which made it out of committee couldn't have been fairly quickly moved through Parliament if all parties agreed that they were necessary to mitigate potential harms from C-257.

Instead, the Libs have apparently chosen to pull the rug out from under C-257 entirely. And with the current Parliament looking to be on precarious ground, that sudden reversal will all too likely put an end to any hope of anti-scab legislation passing before the next election.

Not that it should be much of a surprise for Dion to move back toward his own apparent historical position, or for the Libs to backtrack on their spontaneous concern for Canadian workers. But there should be less doubt than ever why it is that inequality has grown with the Libs at the helm - and less reason than ever for the labour movement to give the Libs the benefit of any doubt at the polls.

Update: Why does it seem all too likely that this was precisely the thinking behind the Libs' change of position? "Sure, it's an idea worth supporting. But that doesn't mean we should actually support it if anybody might criticize us..."

Update II: Erin has more on the lack of any reason for the reversal.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Foregone conclusions

Mark beats me to the punch in commenting on the news that the Cons' contracted-out (and already-slanted) consultation on democratic reform will be handled by the right-wing Frontier Centre for Public Policy. But it looks like the choice is even worse than it appears at first glance.

Mark fairly notes that not all right-wing groups are generally opposed to PR in principle, and suggests that the contract may thus not be a bad sign on its face. Unfortunately, though, while some right-wingers may support (or at least be somewhat open to) PR, the Frontier Centre doesn't seem to fall into that category.

Note first the Centre's interview with Senator Mac Harb (which is one of its few pieces of material on the topic for which it's now supposed to administer national consultations), where it goes out of its way to point out the perceived downside of the proposal:
FC: Some countries like New Zealand and Germany have replaced the “first past the post” system with Parliaments proportioned partially according to the percentage of votes a party receives. Do you support that?

MH: It’s an interesting question. I think that we should have a debate on that; perhaps a combination of the two is an option that should be entertained. I am personally of the view that mandatory voting should go first and then you should debate the rest.

FC: After recent elections, both New Zealand and Germany have failed to elect a government and had to go into prolonged negotiations to establish some kind of coalition government. Is our system any better?

MH: That’s the downfall of having proportional representation, though, that you rarely end up with a clear majority government. Therefore it create problems.
And for added fun, the Centre also reprints a number of articles from other sources which bash PR even more directly, and sponsored an event featuring the leader of New Zealand's anti-PR movement. Which suggests that if the fix wasn't in before, it certainly seems to be now.

As another point of interest, the Frontier Centre goes out of its way to congratulate itself for (a) not seeking government funding, and (b) having a diversified funding base rather than relying too much on any one source. (See the puppet icon at bottom of the left column on each page.) In that light, one has to wonder whether a six-figure federal contract will represent a major single source of funding for the group - and whether it may only have been waiting for a more favourable government in charge before seeking to support itself through public money.

Update: Alison has more on the Frontier Centre.


A couple of notes on the dispute over the role of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, where the Cons seem to want to take the position that the Commissioner should do nothing at all other than monitor past programs.

First, it looks highly doubtful that even the current legislation supports the narrow interpretation of the Commissioner's role. While the section of the Auditor General Act which formally creates the position would seem to favour a limited scope of action, other provisions strongly suggest that the Commissioner has a wide degree of latitude to determine his or her own priorities.

Second, even if one assumes that the Fraser/Con position reflects an accurate view of the current legislation, it's hard to see much basis for the Cons' refusal to support a clarified role. After all, if the sole purpose of the office were to exercise the functions of the Auditor General, there would be little apparent reason to appoint a Commissioner in the first place.

Mind you, it could well be that the Cons want to foment as much controversy as possible surrounding the Commissioner to try to cast doubt on any future reports on the Cons' own programs, not to mention muddy the waters further on environmental issues in general.

But for Canadians who want to see effective action, there's every reason to want an independent office to both review how existing policies have fared, and apply that knowledge to make recommendations for the future. And the Cons' dissent against any move in that direction only highlights a lack of interest in continued environmental discussion beyond their current attempt to neutralize the issue.

(Edit: typo.)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Learning curve

Congrats to Stephane Dion for earning a passing (if imperfect) grade in the latest test of his ability to keep the support of his caucus. But it looks like he's in need of some serious remedial work when it comes to managing expectations.

Shill games

Antonia Zerbisias writes that a new task force is being set up to review the Canadian Television Fund - and that the Cons don't appear to be letting either laws or basic fairness stand in the way of their efforts to cater to cable companies:
In a terse news release last Tuesday, the CRTC announced that its newly created CTF task force would "develop a consensus to resolve the concerns raised by stakeholders or, failing that, to set out possible options to resolve any remaining issues.

"The task force will make its final report public. If it is required or deemed advisable based on this report, the commission will then issue a public notice and hold a hearing."

The task force will consist of one commissioner, broadcast vice-chair Michel Arpin,plus three CRTC staffers. It will meet behind closed doors so as not to risk, in the words of newly appointed CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein, "imperilling the commercial relations" of the interested parties.

In fact, there will be no input except from industry stakeholders – even though the public, which pays for this, is the biggest stakeholder group of all...

Just where does the CRTC have the authority under the law to hold a closed-door, one-member-only task force whose purpose is to achieve a resolution among a limited number of parties with commercial interests?

According to the Broadcasting Act, a panel must consist of no fewer than three full-time commissioners. This task force has only one, plus three bureaucrats.

When NDP MP Charlie Angus raised this last week during one of the Commons heritage committee meetings, von Finckenstein never really addressed the question...

Only after the task force report is delivered April 27 – and only if the issues aren't "resolved" – will the CRTC decide whether further input is necessary.

As von Finckenstein told the heritage committee last week, "If there is no consensus, the report will set out various options to resolve the concerns that have been expressed. At that point, based on the task force's findings, the commission will make a decision about whether it is necessary or desirable to issue a public notice and hold public hearings. If we were to go ahead with public hearings, we would expect to complete them by the end of August."

So why not cut the red tape and hold public hearings right away – unless the conclusion is foregone? Why the stall?
Zerbisias goes on to note that the new move to a closed-door process could set a dangerous precedent which could then be applied to future CRTC hearings, including ones involving planned media mergers. Which means that the absurdity of putting the decision solely in the hands of one extremely narrow set of interests could be just the beginning of a complete exclusion of the public from the CRTC's decision-marking process.

And sadly, that type of move only seems to fit all too well with the usual right-wing idea of a consultation process (as apparently applied in the negotiation of the TILMA among other issues):
(1) Ask the largest corporate interest involved in a policy area to draft the policy it would most like to see.
(2) Implement the policy developed in (1) without further discussion.

Needless to say, Canadians generally should expect better than to have their voices considered only if cable giants can't reach agreement on what they want done. And hopefully the apparent lack of legal authority underlying the task force will help to call into question the Cons' wider disinterest in input from anybody but corporate interests.

Update: Good news from the NDP, as Charlie Angus has managed to win committee approval for a recommendation that public hearings follow any CRTC report (among other more direct support for the CTF). Though it's of course anybody's guess whether the Cons will bother following the recommendations.

On impact assessment

While the TILMA was signed between Alberta and B.C. with no apparent input from affected parties (other than the businesses who got "everything they asked for"), it won't be able to go any further without facing serious questions from others who stand to lose out. And Joe at Owls and Roosters notes that at least one of Saskatchewan's largest stakeholders sees major problems with the deal:
An administrative report by Saskatoon’s city solicitor, tabled at city council’s Feb. 26, 2007, meeting, reviews “the possible effects of a TILMA-type agreement on The City of Saskatoon.”

According to the solicitor “the right of cities to local choice has been considerably strengthened in recent years by both the courts and legislation.” It appears, though, that TILMA would strip Saskatchewan municipalities of that right.

One example of citizens exercising their right to local choice is through petitions and referendums. In Saskatoon, the issues of Sunday shopping and a downtown casino were decided in referendums. With TILMA, “referendums would not have recognition or priority.” Citizens would lose this critical component of direct democracy.

Business subsidies, smoking bylaws, residential housing standards and the enhancement of downtown are just some of the issues the solicitor’s report shows that would be impacted by TILMA.

“Cities like Saskatoon, which have a long history of doing things first and doing things differently, will be at the greatest risk of TILMA challenges,” said the solicitor.
Sadly, the Star-Phoenix doesn't seem to have picked up on the report - meaning that the analysis hasn't likely received much distribution within the city.

But there should be no doubt that Saskatoon's City Council is now acutely aware of the problems underlying the TILMA. And if more municipalities in Saskatchewan and elsewhere learn just what their counterparts in B.C. and Alberta are already facing, that can only bode well for the ability of other provinces to avoid the mistake of signing on to the deal.

Monday, February 26, 2007


Seldom does the right substantive result manage to reflect as badly politically as Stephane Dion's stand against extending legislation enabling preventive arrests and investigative hearings. Of course, the main skewering so far has been from Cons claiming the move makes the Libs weak on security. But the move also lacks any concurrent upside for the Libs based on their utterly bizarre choice of explanations for their position.

After all, how can a party plausibly claim to be taking a strong stand on rights when by all indications it would have been willing to extend the provisions if the Cons hadn't left matters so late? Given that voters concerned with rights as a key issue will be able to choose between an NDP which has opposed the measures all along and a Lib party which merely found a process-based excuse to oppose their renewal after putting them in place to begin with, it's hard to see where Dion stands to gain any ground.

And it only looks worse for the Libs in the House of Commons to be flatly rejecting the proposal made by their party-mates in the Senate. In fairness, the primary blame there lies with the upper chamber in giving PMS political cover with its suggestion that an annual report can justify institutionalizing rights violations - but it's Dion and company who'll bear the electoral damage from the inconsistency.

Obviously Dion is doing his best to avoid ceding control over the issue...and that was probably necessary to avoid getting stuck with a "no control over his party" label. But he's been both cornered by the Cons and damaged by his own party once again - and it's worth wondering whether he can possibly compete with Harper over the course of a full election campaign when even a single issue and deadline like this one has given rise to so many problems.

Constructive and not

The Tyee's Tom Barrett adds several more suggestions to the growing list of ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while keeping Canada's economy humming.

Meanwhile, Lorne Gunter all too thoroughly captures the recent right-wing meme that if environmentalists really cared about their cause, they'd stop using energy talking about it.

Can it be anything but a sign of a messed-up marketplace of ideas that Gunter gets the more prominent writing space of the two?

Unreal reductions

The Globe and Mail put a copy of the Cons' draft regulations on greenhouse gas emissions in the hands of two environmental groups. And the results are ugly, if entirely predictable:
Greenhouse-gas emissions from Alberta's oil sands would be allowed to rise dramatically under a draft version of the government's long-anticipated climate-change plan obtained by The Globe and Mail.

The internal documents appear to underestimate significantly future oil-sands development as a way of producing more positive figures, said two environmentalists who analyzed the documents for The Globe...

The leaked government documents, marked secret and dated Dec. 20, 2006, show that the government was still pursuing a plan at that time based on intensity targets until at least 2020...

The leaked government documents were analyzed for The Globe by two environmentalists: Louise Comeau of the Sage Foundation, who provided policy advice to the Liberal government for Mr. Dion's 2005 plan, and Matthew Bramley of the Pembina Institute, who recently released a proposal that would see oil sands companies comply with Kyoto by adding about $1 to the production cost of each barrel of oil.

"The federal government's proposal for industry regulation on greenhouse gases is a fraud," Ms. Comeau said. "Fabricating numbers so the current government's intensity approach looks better than the last government's intensity approach is no more acceptable today than it was two years ago. Intensity targets are dishonest. The time to regulate real reductions is now."
Once again, it's hard to see the Cons' strategy as being based on anything but forcing the Libs to vote against a scheme virtually identical to what Stephane Dion previously proposed as Environment Minister. Which only puts all the more pressure on the opposition parties to work together agree as to how to rewrite Bill C-30 to include real emission reduction targets, lest the Cons get away with implementing nothing more than a rough approximation of the Libs' plans from two years ago.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

How low can you go?

The CP briefly discusses the TILMA, presenting a slightly more balanced view than CanWest did in at least recognizing the opposition to the deal. But the major criticism of the deal within the article is one which fails to appreciate the effects of the TILMA, even if it's been effective with regard to past trade deals:
“The deal is being oversold. Potential benefits are just not that big,” said Barry O’Neill, Alberta and B.C. vice-president for the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

“Canadians should have the right to move with their work between provinces, but (these) measures will achieve this by adopting the lowest common denominator.”
Now, O'Neill is far from the first to use the "lowest common denominator" language. And in the context of other agreements, it may well have been an accurate description of a deal's effect.

But it's worth highlighting that in the case of the TILMA, such a phrase may severely underestimate the potential impact. It would take a stretch to read Article 5.3 of the agreement as granting a province any immunity from challenge even for a regulation which has been harmonized with other provinces, and Article 3 plainly contains no such limitations on a measure which can be argued to "restrict or impair...investment or labour mobility between the Parties".

Simply put, while a harmonized standard or "lowest common denominator" regulation might be given some additional weight by tribunals as evidence that a measure meets the stringent test for justification, the only way for a province to be sure to avoid facing repercussions under the TILMA is to move toward zero regulation. And that, not concern about "lowest common denominators" among provinces whose regulations may not differ all that much at the moment, should be the end result that most strongly shows the dangers of the TILMA.

A good read

I've held off on discussing the Supreme Court's ruling on security certificates based on the complexities of the decision itself (as compared to the oversimplifications which then came to dominate the public debate). But for those wanting a thorough review of the Charkaoui decision's impact, Olaf's analysis wouldn't be far off my own...that is, give or take an editorial comment on the Anti-Terrorism Act.

On perceptions

I'm not sure whether it's the program or the parties involved who would make the final call as to which guests to put on Question Period for today's discussion of the Anti-Terrorism Act. But in light of the recent raft of commentary comparing Stephane Dion's tenure as leader to that of Stockwell Day, shouldn't the Libs be making sure that coverage of the story doesn't reinforce that message by drawing more links between the two?

Poor precautions

The CP reports that the Libs and NDP are teaming up to make sure that the Cons' new Fisheries Act doesn't get rushed through Parliament. But even though nobody has taken the Cons' bait, it's worth noting just what the Cons honestly seemed to expect another party to bite on:
Federal Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn says the government's proposed new Fisheries Act could be dead in the water.

Hearn...said Saturday that a recent Liberal amendment in the House of Commons could mean the demise of the government bill...

There has been strong opposition to Bill C-45, especially from environmental groups, some fishermen and the NDP, who say the legislation would erode protections of fish stocks and allow greater concentration of the resource in fewer hands.

Scott Simms, the fisheries critic for the Liberals, said he introduced the amendment after the government refused to send the bill to a Commons committee for review.

Simms said there has't been enough consultation, and a six-month delay would allow for more debate...

NDP fisheries critic Peter Stoffer, who supports the Liberal motion, said there are too many problems with the proposed legislation.
Needless to say, that type of story can only lead one to be curious about what's in the bill itself. And it doesn't take long to see just how warped the Cons' view of the environmental issues surrounding fish habitat, as they present their idea of "precautionary" measures:
6. The Minister and every person engaged in the administration of this Act or the regulations must...

(b) seek to apply a precautionary approach such that, if there is both high scientific uncertainty and a risk of serious harm, they will not use a lack of adequate scientific information as a reason for failing to take, or for postponing, cost-effective measures for the conservation or protection of fish or fish habitat that they consider proportional to the potential severity of the risk;
In sum, the Cons' apparent idea of taking "precautions" applies only when a decision-maker concludes:
- that the potential for a serious harm exists;
- that cost-effective measures exist to avoid the potentially severe risk;
- that those cost-effective measures are themselves proportional to the risk; and
- that "high scientific uncertainty" exists on the matter.

Then, and only then, do the Cons figure that it's worth applying a "precautionary" stance under which the decision-maker is directed not throw out a cost-effective measure based on a "lack of adequate scientific information". And that wording hints that even a mere conflict in scientific information (e.g. the existence of corporate-funded studies) may be enough to justify failing to take the precautionary action as long as there's no "lack" of information involved.

By way of comparison, consider what the more commonly-understood precautionary principle includes:
The precautionary principle is a moral and political principle which states that if an action or policy might cause severe or irreversible harm to the public, in the absence of a scientific consensus that harm would not ensue, the burden of proof falls on those who would advocate taking the action...

As applied to environmental policy, the precautionary principle stipulates that for practices such as the release of radiation or toxins, massive deforestation or overpopulation, the burden of proof lies with the advocates. An important element of the precautionary principle is that its most meaningful applications pertain to those that are potentially irreversible, for example where biodiversity may be reduced.
Note in particular that a genuinely precautionary stance involves putting the onus on a project's proponent to demonstrate its safety. Instead, the Cons have put the onus on other parties to demonstrate the existence of a cost-effective and proportional measure to alleviate any serious risk - and even then offer decision-makers several excuses to avoid implementing such a measure if it exists.

Not that it should be any particular surprise to see the Cons trying to warp environmental language for their own purposes, or to pretend that their legislation is more influenced by the environmental movement than it really is. But the Fisheries Act offers just one more example of the difference between the Cons' lip service to responsible resource and environmental management, and policies which would actually fit that description. And Canada's fisheries will be best off in the long term if the opposition parties continue to ensure that the Cons' idea of "precautionary" decision-making doesn't find its way into legislation.