Saturday, July 12, 2008

On hidden dangers

Pogge and impolitical have already weighed in on the substance of the Cons' plan to gut food safety inspections. But there's an equally important story to be told in how and why the changes are coming about:
The new system, part of a push to trim the agency's budget by 5%, was approved last November, but a public announcement "has been deferred owing to significant communications risks," according to the confidential Treasury Board document obtained by Canwest News Service.
Just from this limited description of the process followed by the Cons, a couple of points stand out.

First off, let's note that while pogge is right to point out that the SPP-based push toward corporate regulation was supported just as much by the Libs as by the Cons, the picture is slightly different for this story. After all, this particular move is a direct result of the one of the Cons' policies which has received far too little discussion.

As noted in the article, the cuts to monitoring and regulatory changes are both an immediate consequence of the Cons' arbitrary demand for cuts in the federal civil service. And while the results in the case of food safety may have a particularly obvious effect on Canadians, the Cons' plan is to ensure that the same is done - with similar outcomes sure to follow - in other departments as well.

Mind you, the difference between the Libs and Cons in power doesn't reflect at all well on the Libs' actions in opposition either. From my standpoint, the story also offers an important reason why any strategy such as the Libs' which involves lengthening the amount of time Harper and company stay in power can only be considered a dangerous one in terms of policy as well as politics.

Moving on to the process that made the changes public, the article also highlights why some of the damage done by the Cons may not yet be known - and indeed may not become clear until long after they're removed from office.

It's bad enough that the Cons didn't bother to consult with affected parties before approving the change. But it's especially significant that eight months after the Cons actually made the decision to radically revamp food safety inspection, they still had no apparent intention of making that fact public based on the "communications risks" which would follow from having to actually defend their choices to Canadians.

As a result, but for a media inquiry into something which the Cons concealed, consumers who count on effective federal regulation as part of their assurance that food products are safe may have ended up making choices based on a system which the Cons had already gutted.

Faced with such a stark example of the type of decision which is verifiably being concealed because the Cons perceive the avoidance of "communications risks" as more important than actually allowing Canadians to be informed as to what the federal government has done, there's all the more reason for concern about what else the Cons have done in office which they see as too harmful politically to disclose. And the only way to push for a more reasonable standard from future governments is to make sure the Cons pay at least as much of a political price for their deception as they would have if they'd tried to push the same policy with appropriate public input and knowledge.

Friday, July 11, 2008


Since the National Post's spin makes this sound far more significant than is actually the case, let's take a moment to set the record straight. Based on the text of the story, nothing actually suggests that the recording industry has "won" a disputed case, or that any court has "ruled" on peer-to-peer file sharing. Instead, Big Copyright is apparently trumpeting a consent injunction (i.e. one granted only because the other party chose to agree to it rather than even mounting an argument against it) as something that it isn't.

Which isn't to say there isn't one part of the story worth highlighting for its practical implications:
Mr. Brulotte, a 28-year-old resident of St-Jérôme, north of Montreal, is also ordered to refrain from making any comment regarding the dispute "that may be prejudicial" to the record companies that sought the injunction.
Can we count on Ezra, Steyn and their band of merry Human Rights Commissions haters to be the least bit interested in the freedom of expression implications of this order? Or is it only the opportunity to play free speech martyr - with the added bonus of slamming a moderately-resourced government entity rather than large corporate ones - that makes them the least bit interested in what speech is limited?

No cause for celebration

Shorter Benny Peiser:
Kudos to the G8 for playing chicken on greenhouse gas emission reductions rather than actually trying to work with developing countries. I only hope the two groups of countries are both reckless enough to follow through with a head-on collision.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

So hard to say goodbye

Apparently at least some commentators just aren't quite ready to give up on Quebec's margarine colour regulation as their main argument to criticize the idea of active government based merely on the fact that it no longer exists. Shorter Colby Cosh (by reference to William Watson):
The margarine colour example serves as living proof that we need to be extra-suspicious of regulations to make sure corporate interests can't lobby for a regulatory philosophy which ultimately helps nobody but themselves. But don't take my word for it: ask the Canadian Council of Chief Executives. Or the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. Or...

On budget busters

Sadly, the Sask Party's obsession with nuclear power hasn't yet led to much substantive debate as to why on earth Saskatchewan would want to bind itself either to privately-funded power generally or a nuclear reactor in particular. But Konrad Yakabuski offers a perspective from a province which should already know better on the latter point:
Okay, so nuclear plants don't produce greenhouse gas emissions. And their other advantages are what, exactly?

Well before any of the planned nuclear plants get built - but possibly long enough after it will be too late to stop them from going up - the economics and logistics of wind energy, solar power and carbon capture will have evolved favourably enough to have changed the game.

"Within three to seven years, unsubsidized solar power could cost no more to end customers in many markets, such as California and Italy, than electricity generated by fossil fuels or by renewable alternatives to solar," according to an article in the June issue of The McKinsey Quarterly.

So why bet on a horse - nuclear power - that eats budgets the way Homer Simpson downs doughnuts, and leaves behind the most deadly waste known to man - waste for which there is still no permanent disposal solution?...

That great sucking sound you hear is proposed or in-the-works nuclear plants blowing their budgets everywhere. Areva's first EPR project, in Finland, is two years behind schedule and at least $1.5-billion over budget. Its second, in France's Normandy region, is headed in the same direction, after construction stalled for several weeks recently.

It's not just the skyrocketing price of basic materials, such as concrete and steel, that's driving costs upward. So-called third generation reactors - such Areva's EPR and Atomic Energy's ACR-1000 - are still works in progress. And the two decades during which nuclear power faced desert-like prospects has left the industry grappling with a severe shortage of skilled workers.

In the United States, the escalating cost of nuclear power has led Warren Buffet to reconsider the idea. In January, Berkshire Hathaway-owned MidAmerican Energy Holdings suspended plans to build a nuclear plant in Idaho saying it "does not make economic sense." Still, Congress is offering loan guarantees and tax credits worth billions to electricity providers that take the nuclear plunge. If that doesn't work, Areva's running a television ad using the 1980 disco hit Funky Town to get North Americans to buy into a new nuclear age.

The ad may make some nostalgic, but it only reminds us that nuclear power, like our disco phase, may be a memory best kept repressed.
Unfortunately, it doesn't look like many Canadian provinces have learned any lessons - either based on their own past experience, or based on a continud global pattern of nuclear power costing far more than originally claimed. And for Saskatchewan, the Wall government's determination to push a nuclear megaproject with no regard for the consequences can only bring back memories of a time slightly further on in the '80s from which the province has just recently recovered.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

On selective division

Yessiree, I'm sure any day now Deceivin' Stephen will be proudly appearing at the grand opening of a moderate Christian church while an anonymous surrogate informs "militant Christists" that Harper is "fully prepared to ignore them" and side with other factions within the faith. After all, surely he wouldn't want to tip off any bigotry by blatantly discriminating among religions, right?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The end of an era

The National Post reports that Quebec has repealed its regulation on margarine colour. While the move may be a small one in its immediate effects, it may have far-reaching implications: now, those shilling for TILMA and other anti-government agreements will have to find an entirely different example to beat into the ground as a rare case of an internal trade barrier, rather than being able to repeatedly cry "margarine!".

The far end of the spectrum

Shorter Terence Corcoran:
It utterly baffles me why the federal government would auction off space on the wireless spectrum for prices which providers are more than willing to pay, rather than simply handing it to telecoms for free.

On half measures

While the Cons once again run around trying to take credit for supposed progress in G8 talks about greenhouse gas emissions, the Globe and Mail reports on what the agreed statement actually says. And like most of the Cons' claimed accomplishments, this one amounts to something between less than meets the eye, and nothing at all:
The G8 declaration itself, in fact, puts that goal in the strained and fuzzy language of bureaucratic negotiations.

It asserted the G8 would “seek to share” with all countries in UN climate talks “the vision” of achieving at least a 50 per cent reduction in emissions and “together with them, consider and adopt” the goal.

And it doesn't say what year the starting point is, so it's not clear what level of emissions they want to cut in half, and each country can choose their own start year.
In other words, the goal of a 50% cut in emissions by 2050 hasn't even been substantially accepted within the G8. Instead, the actual agreement is merely to put the number on the table in the upcoming Copenhagen talks - with an unstated implication that the G8 countries won't actually accept the number even at that time unless developing economies do the same.

In reality, then, it would be generous even to call the G8's statement as "aspirational", since there doesn't appear to be any agreement even to aspire to the goal. Instead, the statement looks to be better classified as a conditional willingness to agree to targets at the UN wrapped in a future hypothetical.

But rather than taking an even remotely plausible look at the statement, the Cons are now pushing the idea that such a feeble excuse for an agreement amount a group of the same countries which agreed fully on Kyoto over a decade ago should be classified as "big steps forward". And that should offer another strong indication of just how little distance the Cons are willing to travel to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Louder than words

Remember back when Stephen Harper was trumpeting his claimed commitment to Arctic sovereignty? Apparently word didn't make it through to anybody responsible for ensuring that sovereignty, as the Globe and Mail reports that both the Canadian military and the RCMP showed little more than total disinterest in an Arctic patrol exercise last summer:
The Canadian Forces have come under fire in an internal report highly critical of military leaders' lack of interest in an Arctic sovereignty protection exercise last August.
The report on Operation Nanook, obtained by The Globe and Mail under the Access to Information law, was written by a Forces directorate that helped organize the August, 2007, Arctic exercise.

It says Canadian military leaders didn't place a high enough priority on the operation, and it singles out for criticism Canada Command, the military organization given the task of defending this country.

The report says Canada Command failed to issue a set of orders that had been planned to help disseminate instructions on Operation Nanook.

“[It's] a sad testament to the lack of interest in this operation and its associated training events displayed by the superior HQ that directed it to be conducted in the first place.”
The report also complains about inadequate participation by the RCMP, which has policing responsibilities in Nunavut. The military was forced to use stand-ins for Mounties during part of Nanook, even though the RCMP is a key agency in fighting drug smuggling and this was one of the scenarios practised.
An RCMP spokesman blamed lower-than-normal staffing across Nunavut last August. “Human resources levels across the Division were 25 per cent below normal and ongoing operational issues and day-to-day community policing needs took precedence over the exercise,” Corporal Greg Cox said.
It's not clear how much input the Cons themselves would have had into the amount of effort put into the exercise. But it seems obvious that a government which saw Arctic sovereignty as something genuinely worth pursuing would have ensured that all parties involved recognized the importance of the patrol, rather than apparently showing no interest in the job (not to mention leaving the RCMP with insufficient resources to participate).

Instead, Canada's Arctic sovereignty looks to be just one more addition to the list of policy areas where the Cons' professed interest is flatly contradicted by their record in office. And that continued conflict between the Harper government's words and actions offers plenty of reason to continue to doubt any of the former.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Safe predictions

Shorter Bush/Baird tag team on the prospects for a common front on greenhouse gas emission cuts at next week's G8 summit:
Speaking as the parties who refuse to even consider any emission reduction targets, we have a crazy hunch that no unanimous agreement will be reached.