Saturday, January 19, 2008


There's been plenty of justified furor over Maxime Bernier's declaration that Canada's definition of torture is whatever the U.S. wants it to be. But one point worth some followup involves one of the other countries included on the Foreign Affairs watchlist which Bernier hasn't yet discussed removing:
Foreign Affairs used the manual as part of its torture awareness training -- something that stemmed from recommendations in the Arar inquiry.

Besides the U.S. prison for alleged terrorists on the island of Cuba, the manual also lists:

* Afghanistan;
* China;
* Egypt;
* Iran;
* Saudi Arabia;
* Israel; and
* Syria
We'll see whether or not Bernier decides to edit Afghanistan off the list as well under the "if our allies do it, it isn't torture" standard. But regardless of whether or not the Cons try to rewrite reality yet again, it's striking that Foreign Affairs continues to properly recognize exactly the risk of torture in Afghanistan which the Con government has gone out of its way to downplay. And that distinction should offer just one more set of questions which needs to be asked about the Cons' detainee policy.

Thank you sir, may I have another?

CSR rightly points out the absurdity of Con MP Gerry Ritz' attempt to paint a reduction in federal health-care funding for Saskatchewan as both a good-news story, and somehow a reversal of the Libs' historical social spending cuts. But while Ritz' statement may be the more ridiculous on its face, the provincial response may be even more telling:
Saskatchewan Health Minister Don McMorris says this total is actually less than the previous year’s total of $806 million...

Despite the slight decrease in funding, McMorris says the Saskatchewan government is pleased to know how much they will receive.

“It’s good to know that we can count on that money and it helps us a bit in our budgeting process … so we can count on that,” he said.
Let's consider what this means if one takes McMorris' statement at face value. Even the Con-friendly Sask Party government would then have so little trust in the Harper regime that it would have seen some real risk that it couldn't budget for federal funding at all - such that it's happy even to receive confirmation of a decrease if it means being able to plan for something.

Of course, it's more likely that the Sask Party simply lacks the spine to actually stand up for the province's interests in the face of federal cuts. Either way, though, there's plenty of reason for Saskatchewan residents to be concerned about how much worse off the province stands to become based on the current set of federal and provincial governing parties.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Same old story, manufacturing edition

Shorter Lib manufacturing fund proposal:
And to Stephen Harper, we say that your seven cents of industrial investment for every dollar of corporate tax cuts doesn't go too far enough!

Credit worthy

Anytime the federal NDP can take a shot across the bow of free-market orthodoxy which provokes a reaction like John Ivison's, it's bound to be doing something right. But let's take a closer look at exactly what the NDP is proposing - and how it figures to affect the party's position going forward.

The first few policies which draw Ivison's ire aren't particularly new, nor should they seemingly be all that controversial. After all, none of the parties has suggested for a second that Canada should abandon its "net benefit" test for foreign acquisitions, and it only makes sense that the test should be applied so as to have some meaning. And while there's room for argument about the best means to encourage processing of Canadian natural resources within Canada, there can't be much doubt that the goal is a worthy one.

As for corporate tax cuts, the issue is obviously one where the federal parties have long since chosen their sides. But the NDP surely isn't about to be shy in pointing out that both the Libs and Cons seem to put corporate windfalls first - and its plan to direct the funding toward infrastructure and modernization instead looks like it should be able to win some industry support.

Again, all of this is fairly familiar territory. Next up comes the new announcement, being a promise to limit credit card costs for Canadians:
Layton and Nash outlined the following measures:

* Regulate credit card interest by insuring that credit card interest would be charged only on the amount owing and start only on the due date of the bill;
* Cap interest rates at 5% above prime – bringing maximum rates down to 10%.
Politically, the move looks to be an extremely sound one. While the Cons' focus on the GST and the Libs' on income taxes both serve to primarily put more in the pockets of those who already have the most, the NDP's plan would instead provide the greatest benefit instead to Canadians facing larger personal debt burdens.

What's more, it also can't hurt to have every credit card statement or commercial serve to build a connection to the NDP's plan - an effect which only figures to be bolstered as Layton unveils measures related to cell phone use today.

On the policy side, part of the issue looks to be a simple matter of legislating terms which some consumers might already assume apply to their credit cards - making it more a matter of basic consumer protection than a serious imposition on credit card issuers.

That said, there's always some question about how credit card providers would respond to the interest rate cap. It's entirely possible that some would either reduce the amount of credit available or put a tighter squeeze on repayment based on the lower returns, meaning that the ultimate effect on consumers wouldn't be quite as simple as the reduction in rates would suggest. And if those issues didn't materialize, then there's some room for a converse question as to whether a cap on credit-card interest would only encourage even more personal deficit spending.

Ultimately, though, the potential concerns with the proposed interest cap are both far less certain and far less obvious as outcomes than the promise of reduced interest costs for Canadians generally. Which means that the more the NDP can get its plan into the public eye, the more likely it is that Canadians will take a look at the benefits of putting the NDP in power.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Standard imports

Shorter Lawrence Cannon:
I'm looking forward to introducing our Made-In-Canada vehicle emission targets. There's just one holdup: can anybody confirm that Washington, D.C. is part of Canada?

(Edit: typo.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wielding the axe

While one unwarranted firing is making news nationally, it's worth noting that many more are in the works at the provincial level in Saskatchewan. And the Sask Party government apparently isn't shy about saying that it's making its decisions based on politics rather than competence:
Saskatchewan deputy premier Ken Krawetz says hundreds of government workers could lose their jobs in the coming weeks.

People are being evaluated individually on their ability to do the job and on whether they share the same philosophy as Premier and Saskatchewan Party leader Brad Wall, Krawetz said.

"There are individuals who have played key roles within the NDP. They have been campaign leaders, etc. I'm sure that those individuals would have [a] difficult time supporting the philosophy of the new premier and the new government," Krawetz said Tuesday.
As I noted at the time, the Sask Party's initial round of deputy minister-level firings may not have presented quite the same problem based on the level and type of employees involved. But the latest news raises far more issues about the likelihood of a Devine-style political purge.

From Krawetz' own words, it seems obvious that politics are receiving at least as much attention as individual job suitability in a wide range of government positions. And it looks like the Wall government is taking the position that any "role" within the NDP constitutes reason for dismissal - with no consideration at all given to the question of whether it's still possible to perform a job effectively while disagreeing with Wall's ideology, or to the fact that continuity plays an important role in ensuring that the public sector is able to function.

It remains to be seen just how far the Sask Party decides to go in trying to remove NDP supporters from the province's civil service. But all signs right now point toward a government which plans to use Saskatchewan's public sector for partisan rewards and punishments rather than seeing competence or institutional knowledge as having any value at all. And it may not be long before the result is to replay Saskatchewan's last disastrous spell of right-wing government.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


The Star reports on yet another example of the Cons embarrassing Canada abroad, as Maxime Bernier's trip to try to help broker an Israel/Palestine peace deal hit a snag when it became obvious that Bernier lacked any clue about the issues being dealt with:
A change in direction on a potentially explosive foreign policy issue – or just a new minister unsure of his brief?

That was the question for Canadians here yesterday, the second day of a two-day visit to the Holy Land by Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier.

And the answer is: nobody seemed to know...

The confusion on the potentially explosive issue of Israeli settlements arose Sunday when Bernier was twice asked during a West Bank news conference whether Ottawa – which officially opposes new settlement activity by Israel – makes a distinction between housing construction in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.

Both times, the Canadian minister pointedly ignored the question. The second time it was asked, he abruptly ended the news conference and left the room.
Of course, it would be even worse if Bernier was indeed trying to send up a trial balloon to selectively support new settlements. But it would seem obvious that if Bernier was indeed seeking to break new ground, he'd at least have been aware of that fact, not to mention willing to make some attempt to defend the position.

Instead, it looks all too likely that Bernier's trip, like so many other Con excursions abroad, is based solely on a desire for photo-ops rather than any prospect that the Con government has anything useful to contribute. And the more discredited the Harper government continues to become around the world, the more reason Canadians will have to wonder why it should be taken seriously at home.

Monday, January 14, 2008

On openings

Based on the riding's results in 2006 when the Bloc won over 55% of the vote, the departure of Longueuil-Pierre-Boucher MP Caroline St-Hilaire wouldn't seem to present any particular opportunity for any other party. But a look at the riding's history suggests that the riding may be far more open to a wide variety of parties than most.

In the last 40 years spanning 11 federal elections, seven different federal parties have finished among the top 2 in the riding:

Liberal (10 top-2 finishes, but not in 2006)
Bloc (5)
PC (3)
NDP (2)
Conservative (1)
Social Credit (1)
Rhino (1) (!)

In addition, the placements from 2nd place to 5th in 2006 were all relatively close. The Cons beat out the Libs by just over 3,000 votes, who in turn beat out the NDP by under 2,000, with the Greens just slightly more than that behind the Dippers.

As a result, it looks like Longueuil-Pierre-Boucher may offer a unique combination of voters willing to shift their support among a wide range of options, and an already-close field of national parties. And that could make the race to replace St-Hilaire (and to emerge as the primary federalist alternative) far more interesting than one might suspect from the Bloc's recent dominance.

On stewardship

The NDP's leadership summit earns an article in each of the Globe and Mail and the National Post. And in the latter, Jack Layton hits exactly the right note in highlighting the issue where the NDP can make up the most ground:
Speaking to reporters, Mr. Layton gave a glimpse of what could very well be a key plank in the NDP's platform heading into the next election, painting his party as better stewards of the economy than the Conservatives who tend to favour letting market forces prevail with little government intervention. "We believe that Mr. Harper has been reckless in the way that he has approached financial matters." For example, the Conservatives bring in tax cuts that help industries already doing well such as banks and oil companies, allowing them to make even greater profits, Mr. Layton argued. Meanwhile, high oil prices are fuelling the high dollar which is hitting other industries such as manufacturing, forestry and agriculture.
Of course, there's always room for debate as to the best mmeans of assisting a struggling industry. But it should be clear that the competing corporate tax cuts on offer from both the Libs and Cons will be of little use to employers who aren't in a profit position, along with the workers and communities who depend on them.

And the Cons' weak aid package only emphasizes the relative priorities of the Harper government. Having promised a $14 billion windfall in corporate tax cuts, they're only belatedly willing to offer up a small fraction of that in regional assistance - which in turn is conditional on passing the corporate tax cuts themselves.

Fortunately, it's not too late to start getting Canada's priorities in order. With even the Cons going out of their way to point out that the federal government's fiscal situation could turn sour in a hurry, the 2008 budget may offer a defining choice between social investment and gratuitous tax cuts. And the NDP can proudly stand not only as the most fiscally responsible party in Canada when it comes to public funds, but also as the lone national party willing to make the investments needed to ensure a broad economic base.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Conflicting advice

Shorter Deceivin' Stephen to Canada's premiers:
With tough times looming, the provinces should avoid committing future resources which they can't afford to lose. For example, if someone is irresponsible enough to suggest hiding the cost of infrastructure improvements in a multi-decade commitment, or giving up a long-term revenue stream in exchange for short-term funding, you'd be smart to show them the door.

(Edit: fixed wording.)