Saturday, March 08, 2008

Compare and contrast

For those wondering which opposition parties are actually focused on the Cons and which are most interested in sniping at each other, yesterday's climate change motion offers about as vivid an example as one could find.

After a speech centred on the Cons' failures in office (most notably surrounding Bill C-30), Jack Layton was offered a clear invitation to slam the Libs' management of the environment and performance in opposition. Rather than taking the bait, though, here's what Jack Layton had to say instead:
Mr. Dean Del Mastro (Peterborough, CPC):
I just wanted to ask this member, who has been around this House longer than I have, if he feels that the previous government acted proactively on behalf of the environment? Does he see anything in the Leader of the Opposition that indicates to him that the action that he desires would be carried forth by the Leader of the Opposition?

The Leader of the Opposition last night tried to pass a motion of non-confidence in the NDP. What does he see from this leader that indicates to him that there would be proactive action on behalf of the Liberal Party?

Hon. Jack Layton:
Mr. Speaker, I choose not to really offer observations on the conduct of other leaders.

I just simply wanted to say that I thought there was a moment of hope in this chamber when we were able to secure agreement from all parties on the issue of climate change to send a piece of legislation to a special committee.

In fact, it was done in a way, using the procedures of the House, that allowed all parties to bring forward their best ideas, to remove those elements of the climate change legislation that would not work, and to replace them with a plan that represented the best thinking of this House.

This does not happen very often, I think members would agree. But when it does happen, it should be celebrated. And not only that, it should be respected...

If there was one issue that Canadians would tell us they want us to work together to address, it would be the climate change crisis and that is exactly what was done by this House. But the attitude of the government is totally disrespectful to this House of Commons.

That is why we have been forced to place a motion of non-confidence on this issue, specific to this particular action by the government, or inaction as it would more appropriately be called.
On the other hand, there's the Libs' environment critic David McGuinty, who was the Libs' main voice in dealing with the motion. And for McGuinty, no invitation was needed to start a round of gratuitous smears toward the NDP:
Before I get into the substance of some of the issues raised in the motion, I do want to make a few general comments about the nature of the motion and some of the motivating factors behind this motion.

First, I would like to remind the House that the official opposition of any political stripe does possess, in the case of a minority government, a certain amount of power. That power culminates, I believe, in the exercising of a decision which would take down a minority government and cause an election. It is a power which, I believe, has to be exercised responsibly, judiciously, and one that cannot be taken lightly.

It is fair to say that this motion is more than tinged in partisanship. The leader of the NDP made comments this morning that were somewhat troubling to me and to the official opposition. He made comments, for example, around the notion, in my view, that the NDP is prepared to put this motion in a confidence form because it is unwilling to cooperate with the Bloc Québécois and the Liberal Party of Canada in taking the time necessary to expose for Canadians just what has been happening with this minority government. [Ed. note: This is about as accurate as it sounds. About the closest one could find would be Layton's admonition that there was "no time for more mistakes" on climate change.]
Why is it wrong for the NDP to play partisan politics with this motion? It is wrong because it is important for Canadians to get to know more about the character, the nature, the values, and the approaches taken by this Prime Minister and his reformed Conservative Party.

So, with respect to the politics of this motion, that is all I really wanted to say, except that it is unfortunate that the NDP, by couching this important climate change debate on a motion of confidence, is really aiding and abetting the government in its attempts to hide from plain public view what has been happening on a number of key fronts...

With respect to the motion, the NDP may say that it cares about climate change, but it is the reason we have a Conservative government today. [Ed. note: What reason could there possibly be to doubt the Libs' conventional wisdom on that?] Its members brought down the Liberal government right when the world came to Canada for the 2005 Montreal climate change conference, despite all of the leader of the NDP's rhetoric. He is accountable to the Canadian people for that decision. He will ultimately be accountable for these kinds of partisan moves.
So, let's ask the question: based on the above choices of focus on a subject which both the NDP and the Libs recognize to be a core issue facing the country, which opposition party is actually focused on holding the Cons to account, and which is once again too busy jockeying for position against its opposition rivals to keep the Cons under the microscope?


In comments at We Move to Canada, Sarah O provides Peter Stoffer's explanation for his vote on C-484, essentially reflecting a personal policy of encouraging as many private member's bills as possible to reach the committee stage even if he's opposed in substance.

While that explanation certainly isn't as damaging as support for the bill in substance, it's still hard to see any reasonable justification for prioritizing form over content to that great an extent - particularly when it would seem to make it less likely that more positive bills will actually get dealt with in committee. And given that the Libs aren't doing all that much else at the moment, can it be long before they introduce a Let's Lock Up Peter Stoffer and Throw Away the Key Act to challenge the strength of Stoffer's convictions?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Uncooperative efforts

Kuri has already blogged about NDP MP Irene Mathyssen's valiant attempt to turn the Libs' sad excuse for a motion into something that all opposition parties could agree on to highlight the Cons' continued failure to consider the needs of Canadian women. But Lib MP Maria Minna's reaction may say even more about the Libs' current lack of direction than the original motion:
Mrs. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP):
...I move that the motion be amended by deleting all the words “that, therefore” and all the words after, and replace them with: “that this House acknowledge International Women's Week and call on the government to reinstate the court challenges program, restore funding to research and advocacy groups under women's program, reopen the 12 regional offices of Status of Women Canada, create a national housing program, provide resources for an early learning and child care program, implement proactive pay equity legislation, address violence against women, reform the employment insurance program to allow women better access to it, and recognize that women in Canada deserve fairness, affordability, equal opportunity, equal pay for work of equal value, a decent standard of living, and the freedom to live without fear”.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer):
Before ruling on the receivability of the amendment, it is my duty to inform hon. members that an amendment to an opposition motion may be moved only with the consent of the sponsor of the motion.

Therefore, I ask the hon. member for Beaches—East York if she consents to this amendment being moved.

Hon. Maria Minna:
I do not, Mr. Speaker.
In sum, rather than simply leaving the Libs to twist in the wind based on their own poor strategy, the NDP actually offered a way to salvage a united front against the Cons. But even after the firestorm that immediately followed their introduction of the motion, the Libs still weren't interested in acknowledging that the motion could be improved - preferring to stumble forward with a motion doomed to both fail in Parliament and embarrass the Libs as a party, rather than redirecting the publicity surrounding the motion toward more constructive ends.

Which means that amazingly enough, Minna seems to have managed to make the Libs' most obvious misstep yet even worse. And given the track record of the Libs under Dion, it only seems like a matter of time before they find a way to descend even further.


Isn't it an interesting coincidence how many Lib supporters who are normally thoroughly skeptical about Deceivin' Stephen's manipulations suddenly lose all ability to question Harper's motives if it means getting to bash the NDP?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

On interference

Shorter David Wilkins:
As a lifetime partisan of the party which stands to benefit from the Harper government's meddling in the U.S. elections, I see no reason why anybody should be held accountable for the leaks.

Diminishing returns

One more question worth asking about the Kerry Joseph to Toronto trade - though I hope the 'Riders have done their due diligence to make sure that the return they got on paper will materialize.

As Eric Tillman was at pains to point out back when it was reported that the 'Riders were over the salary cap for 2007, the league's audits of team finances aren't going to be available until April. And one of the penalties for exceeding the salary cap is the loss of a first-round draft pick.

So is it possible that a significant chunk of the already-unimpressive return for KJ will vanish into thin air if the Argos turn out to be over the cap?

Voting patterns

It's understandable that most of the talk about House of Commons votes today has focused on the Cons' attempt to start clawing away at reproductive rights. (For commentary on C-484, see here, here, here, here and here, among others. And no, I won't try to defend Peter Stoffer's vote on what couldn't be a more obvious attempt by the anti-choice crowd to get a foot in the door under Canadian law.)

But another noteworthy vote seems to have taken place largely without comment yesterday, as the Libs voted with the Cons against a motion to correct the film industry censorship provisions of Bill C-10 - with the excuse that the Senate which has already shown its willingness to be pushed around by Deceivin' Stephen should be counted on to fix the problem. Which, combined with the Libs' consistent complicity in the Cons' agenda since last fall, can only leave Canadian voters to consider the likelihood that they're better off not putting votes in the hands of a party which doesn't seem interested in using them to support the priorities it claims to care about.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A raw deal

While I try to keep fairly close tabs on the sports scene, I don't often cover sports subjects on this blog; indeed, I think I have exactly once before, when the 'Riders made the most significant personnel move in the franchise's recent history. That is, until today, when they apparently decided they'd had enough of a Grey Cup-calibre quarterback.

But while I've seen plenty of criticism of the reported trade sending Kerry Joseph to Toronto for Glenn January, Ronald Flemons and draft picks, it looks to me like the deal is even worse than it would seem on the surface.

I'll note first that I haven't seem much discussion of the alternative which Eric Tillman seems to have rejected: namely, giving Joseph a contract extension for the kind of money he's looking for (which I presume to be in the 300-400K range).

Based on the CFL's salary management system, that is a lot of money to put into a single player. But KJ may be one of the few players in the league who's more than worth it - even at age 34.

To see why, it's worth drawing a distinction between young player's skills and old player's skills, as others have done (for example) in baseball. Even at 34, Joseph's speed was better than any other CFL starting QB, and his arm strength well within range of anybody other than Michael Bishop. Which means that his athletic gifts - or "young player's skills" - still figure to be well above average for a long time to come.

Meanwhile, unlike most quarterbacks his age, there's still some realistic prospect of improvement in the "old player's skills" category (particularly in throwing accuracy, and possibly somewhat in decision-making as well) due to Joseph's relative inexperience at the position. Which means that Joseph could easily be a better player in the next five years than he was in the last five - making a long-term contract a positive prospect rather than a negative one.

Let's accept, though, that Joseph might have left the 'Riders after the 2008 season rather than re-upping. Even then, I'd argue that the smart play would have been to keep him around to finish up his contract.

After all, Tillman did recently acquire a quarterback with a profile relatively similar to Joseph's in Steven Jyles. But there doesn't seem to be much indication that Jyles is ready to start just yet, due to both accuracy and interception issues. And a year of mentoring from the prototype for his style of play would seem to significantly improve Jyles' chances of evolving into a CFL starter for 2009.

Which means that by keeping Joseph, the 'Riders would have not only maintained a better chance of winning in '08, but also enjoyed a greater likelihood of developing an impact starter for the longer term.

In Joseph's absence, the 'Riders' presumptive QB is now Marcus Crandell, who doesn't offer anything close to KJ's athletic ability. With the team now unable to rely on Joseph to stretch out plays and spread the defence, the entire offence will need to adjust to having less time and space to work with - likely making the jobs of every offensive player more difficult. And since Crandell will need to try to outguess defences rather than being able to create space, the 'Riders figure to be far worse off in the turnover department as well, making the defence's job more difficult too.

Needless to say, the 'Riders did get some talent in return. But I don't see the new acquisitions taking any of the edge off the deal: Flemons figures at best to challenge Kitwana Jones to take over Fred Perry's lineup spot, January doesn't figure to be much of a long-term improvement on the better of Steve Morley or Chris Best, and the draft picks are at best lottery tickets for the long term.

Of course, Eric Tillman has pleasantly surprised with some odd-looking moves before - e.g. bringing in a dozen qualified receivers to last year's camp while Gainer looked to have a shot at a backup RB spot, then reversing that positional imbalance by the middle of the season.

But while Tillman has shown plenty of ingenuity in pulling extra backs and receivers out of thin air, it's far harder to find a QB with enough skill and experience to lead a team to the top of the league. And it looks like Tillman just gave away what may have been the least replaceable player in the CFL for exactly the kind of fungible assets he should have been able to track down elsewhere.

In agreement

The Globe and Mail reports that Lib Ethics Committee Chair Paul Szabo agrees with NDP MP Pat Martin's take that for now, Cadscam should be dealt with by the RCMP rather than the committee:
(E)ven the Liberal chairman of (the ethics) committee does not agree that it is the right venue for an airing of the facts in the Cadman case.

“The best outcome here to clear the water is for an RCMP investigation,” Paul Szabo said. “We're not a court. We can't lay charges. It would just delay, ultimately, the process.”
Which would seem to give those principled Libs who have spent the last couple of days bashing Martin for saying the exact same thing a choice if they want to be consistent: they can either turn their vitriol against Szabo as well on the substance of the matter, or alternatively start slamming Elizabeth May for being the lone holdout against a united national opposition front. But needless to say, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for either to happen.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

On political choices

I'll toss in my two cents in response to Steve's concerns about the NDP's stance on Cadscam. While I don't agree entirely with Pat Martin's public stances, it seems to me there's an awfully good reason for the Ethics Committee not to drop everything now in order to race to deal with Cadscam - not because it wouldn't be a plus to deal with the matter quickly, but because of what the committee would presumably leave behind in order to do so.

Remember that one of the major recent questions in the Mulroney/Schreiber scandal (remember that?) was when - if ever - Deceivin' Stephen would keep his promise to call a public inquiry. While the opposition may have reasonably expected the inquiry to start once the Ethics Committee's hearings ended, Con MP Russ Hiebert has made clear that Harper plans on waiting until after the committee completes its report into the matter. And if anybody thinks Heibert had anything but the full approval of Harper in putting that position forward, Doug Finley has a million-dollar life insurance policy he'd like to sell them.

So why not simply put Mulroney/Schreiber on hold while dealing with Cadscam, and finish off the report later? As I've pointed out earlier, without some kind of mandate to keep Schreiber in the country, there's every danger that the Cons could find some way to shuttle him off the continent and permanently bury any potential inquiry. Which would of course cost Canadians any hope of getting to the truth behind another major Con scandal, and equally cost the opposition the political gains that come with getting to the facts behind Harper's Godfather.

And even if Schreiber wasn't sent on the next available plane across the Atlantic, it's still entirely possible that Harper would declare that with the committee having lost interest, he wouldn't see any reason to follow through on the promised inquiry.

As a result, the choice isn't necessarily between dealing with Cadscam now and Mulroney later or vice versa. Instead, the choice may well be between dealing with Mulroney now to keep both issues live - or putting all the opposition's eggs in one basket and missing out on another prime opportunity to highlight the past the Cons would prefer to bury.

Of course, the Mulroney/Schreiber story doesn't necessarily reflect well on the Libs either...which is why it's understandable that they'd be looking for a narrative of all Cadscam, all the time. But if one's goal is to get all the Cons' shady dealings into the public eye, it's entirely reasonable to want to make sure the Ethics Committee finishes off its Mulroney report as the top current priority.

Square one

If the Cons weren't having a bad enough week thanks to Cadscam, it just got worse, as the London Court of International Arbitration awarded Canada its first (partial) victory on softwood lumber since the Cons nullified Canada's long string of previous wins. Which, based on the Cons' track record, means that they'll now have to go back to the drawing board to figure out how to give away the successful part of today's ruling.

If they're looking for some advice as to how to go about that, though, the Court apparently had plenty to say about the Cons' poor job of developing the agreement itself:
As they issued their ruling, the three judges who handled the dispute remarked on how poorly worded the softwood deal is.

“The Tribunal has found the provisions of the SLA to be less clear and consistent than one might hope for in a bilateral treaty so long negotiated and so closely scrutinized and debated by the contracting states,” the judges said.
That's right: Deceivin' Stephen and his crew aren't even competent enough to deliberately give away the farm without finding a way to screw it up. Which can only make it all the more clear why it's a bad idea to have the Cons representing Canada's interests abroad - and all the more reason for hope that more reasonable parties will soon be in charge of Canada/U.S. trade issues on both sides of the border.


From a trivia standpoint, I'm curious as to whether there's any precedent for the vote result on the Libs' budget amendment yesterday.

In particular, when was the last time any matter which was seen as important enough to raise in the House of Commons received only 7 "yea" votes?

Has it ever happened for an official party position of the Official Opposition - or a party with more than 50 (or even 20) seats?

And when was the last time a party who didn't abstain completely had more MPs participate in a debate than actually bother to vote?

Update: One other point of interest from my end. Votes in the House of Commons are dealt with by voice rather than recorded votes unless 5 or more members stand to request that yeas and nays be counted. And I'm curious as to who it was that stood to put numbers behind what was already a "nay" result: did the Libs themselves want to record their meager presence, or did members from other parties ask for a standing vote on an issue they'd already won?

Monday, March 03, 2008

Worst. Bluff. Ever.

Deceivin' Stephen figures that a threat to sue the Libs for defamation will somehow help his own cause when it comes to Cadscam. But let's consider what would actually happen if a lawsuit went forward.

After all, as much as the Cons would like to make the issue one of parliamentary privilege alone, truth (or technically "justification") is a full defence to a claim in libel. And if the Libs were to raise that as a defence, with the alleged truth of their statements brought into issue, they'd be entitled to full disclosure of any documents relevant to the question of what the Cons did or didn't offer to Cadman.

Of course, the libel notice seems to want to make the cut both ways by demanding access to the Libs' own internal computer systems. But it's hard to see how that could be of any relevance to what was actually published - while the Libs' entitlement to information from the Cons would be obvious.

What's more, Harper would almost certainly have to testify personally as to what actually happened. And as thoroughly as the Cons may be able to stonewall during the course of an hour-long question period or even a committee hearing, it would be an entirely different matter for Harper to avoid saying something damaging during an extended examination for discovery focused on a detailed review of such topics as what he meant by "financial considerations (Cadman) might lose due to an election" in his taped interview with Tom Zytaruk.

And of course Flanagan, Finley, and anybody else with relevant knowledge would come under similar scrutiny - potentially laying bare the Cons' entire command structure. Which means that if Harper were foolish enough to actually go forward with the threatened lawsuit, the effect might well be to finally open the floodgates to exactly the kind of information which the Cons have gone to severe lengths to suppress.

Finally, the outcome of a trial would depend almost entirely on a technical discussion as to the definition of the word "bribe". Which must surely be the last word Harper wants permanently associated with himself personally - especially when it's not too late to try to deflect most of the responsibility.

In sum, the Libs' response to the libel threat should be a hearty "bring it on". And if the added bonus is to see Harper back down, they surely can't complain about that result either.

Cult Conservatives

CBC reports on the Cons' latest sad effort to win back lost support in Newfoundland. And it looks like they may soon be in conflict with Charles McVety and his fundamentalist friends as to just which religion they're trying to impose:
Defence Minister Peter MacKay says Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn — Newfoundland and Labrador's federal cabinet representative — is getting an unfairly rough ride at home.

"Sometimes you know, a prophet is least appreciated in his own land," said MacKay, who visited the province over the weekend for a meeting of Atlantic Conservative MPs and to make some funding announcements.
Of course, it might be pointed out that even if one believes that the Cons' goal is the stuff of prophecy rather than farce, MacKay's appeal wouldn't make much sense. After all, the most-respected prophetic figures tend to be those who stand by their vision even when it isn't particularly popular, rather than feeling the need to send a slightly higher-ranking cleric to whine about how it's not fair to question the prophet's words.

But then, it's worth asking just why MacKay would select the term that he did. And it would seem that MacKay's choice to use "prophet" to describe Hearn would seem to offer yet another example of the Cons trying to operate more like a cult than a political party.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

On creative insults

For all the justified talk about Cadscam this weekend, I'm surprised one tidbit seems to have passed without notice even as Garth Turner blogged about his exchange with James Moore:
Hon. Garth Turner (l): Thank you, speaker. When I was a Conservative member of parliament, before that party threw me out, I heard the prime minister call Chuck Cadman a poor M.P. The prime minister said Mr. Cadman was more concerned with ethics and with the country than he was with political organization and power.

Mr. Speaker, I have always wondered why the prime minister was so angry at the late Chuck Cadman, but now we know a lot more. Was it simply because he could not be bribed?

The speaker: The honourable parliamentary secretary to the minister of public works.

James Moore (c): Mr. Speaker, how dare — the member from Halton never served with Chuck Cadman. He didn’t know Chuck Cadman. Chuck Cadman supported the prime minister when he was leader of the opposition, supported him in his leadership races. The prime minister wanted him to rejoin the Conservative party.

Chuck Cadman was a dear friend of mine from a neighboring riding. And we always supported Chuck Cadman. He was a fantastic human being, a great member of parliament and a dear friend. He has no proof. He has no evidence that the prime minister ever said that about Chuck Cadman. That’s outrageous.

We honour Chuck Cadman’s memory. He was a dear friend. The member from Halton should withdraw that ridiculous question and statement.
From what I can tell, Moore's response offers one of the best examples yet of Cons' crass partisan focus - and the gap between that narrow-minded view and what Canadians would actually expect from their government.

Turner's question can be broken into two premises: that Cadman was known to put ethics and principles ahead of purely partisan interests, and that as far as Harper was concerned that made Cadman a "poor M.P.". The lone statement about Cadman personally is the first one, while the latter is obviously a matter of Harper's judgment rather than a direct slight to Cadman.

But Moore's choice of responses - which of course fit with the Cons' set of talking points last week - was to the effect that Turner's question somehow represented an affront to Cadman, to the point where it would be necessary to rebut it with a positive opinion of Cadman. Which leads to the question of what in Turner's question could possibly be offensive to Cadman personally.

From what I can tell, Moore's attempt to claim outrage on Cadman's behalf only makes sense if one assumes either:
- that it's actually an insult to describe somebody as more concerned with ethics than political power; or
- that Harper personally is infallible, such that the mere fact that he had offered his disapproval must be a sign of bad character on the part of the subject without even considering whether Harper was in the wrong.

What's truly sad is that based on how the Cons have operated under Harper, it's entirely possible that one or both could be seen as true within the party. But it seems highly likely that most of the swing voters who they're now courting would disagree strongly with both - and that the more Harper's "Cons over country" philosophy gets aired in public, the less likely those voters are to provide Harper with the power he's so bent on pursuing.