Saturday, August 09, 2008

No comment necessary

Conrad Black, patron saint of Canada's right-wing movement including the Harper government, provides an unusually stark example of just how much repression neocons will accept and embrace if it means attacking the preferred enemy du jour:
The Munich Games in 1972 were designed to do for the temporary country of West Germany what it had been initially hoped the 1936 Games would do for the temporary country of Weimar Germany. Once again, the legitimate German quest for acceptance was frustrated, this time by the murderous outrage of Black September against the Israeli team. Ironically, the Germans bungled the challenge and a number of Israelis and German special forces died. (At least Hitler’s security forces would have done a very professional job of disposing of any terrorist efforts at the Berlin Games.)

The long view

In addition to providing an interesting look at the impending battle for Vancouver Centre, Barbara Yaffe also offers a strong indication that Michael Byers looks to play a prominent role within the NDP and the Canadian political scene far into the future:
Michael Byers, 41-year old bilingual UBC political scientist, lawyer, author, human rights advocate, expert in international law, will be acclaimed as NDP candidate on Aug. 17. The riding -- which has never gone NDP -- "fits me like a glove. I intend to represent Vancouver Centre in Ottawa, whether it's this election or next."
Byers' plan to push forward even through multiple election campaigns should put the final nail in the coffin of the laughable Lib assertion that Byers' choice of parties was based on some sense of entitlement to an easy ride rather than a realistic evaluation of the parties' merits.

But it also offers NDP supporters all the more reason for optimism that Byers and other high-profile recruits are looking at far more than just the next election campaign. And with that multi-year focus contrasted against Cons who are in over their heads trying to information from week to week and Libs who can't even keep their focus long enough to hold a strategy meeting, the NDP looks to have a strong chance to position itself for some major long-term gains.

On dull minds

Shorter Kerry Thompson:
I can think of no better use for column space than to criticize nameless opposition MPs for a position which Stockwell Day made up on their behalf. Stay tuned for my forthcoming investigative series on why the opposition parties hate motherhood, hockey and apple pie.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Under review

Cam has already noted the Cons' latest exercise in information suppression, this time dealing with a report expected to confirm the dangers associated with chrysotile asbestos. But the newest excuse for hiding information from the public looks to deserve some comment:
The panel's findings were made final in March but have yet to be released.

A Health Canada spokesman said in an e-mail the department is reviewing the report to "help further its knowledge of chrysotile asbestos fibres in relation to human health... (and the report) will be made available to the public after the department has reviewed the findings."
Taken at face value, the statement simply doesn't explain anything. While one would expect Health Canada to incorporate the study into its knowledge on the subject, there's no reason at all why it would be any less able to do so based on the report also being available to the public.

And that has to raise some suspicions about just what kind of "review" the report may be undergoing. Are the Cons keeping the lid on the expert assessment until they've prepared a politically-oriented counterargument to muddy the waters? Or are they seeking to have the actual report "reviewed" and revised to better fit the answer which Tony Clement wanted from the beginning?

With those possibilities looming, it may be that Cam's concern that the Cons are simply trying to control the timing to avoid making the report public before an October conference may actually make for the least problematic scenario. But it should be obvious that none of the explanations serve as anything but a strong indictment of the Cons' fitness for power.

On openings

Kady O'Malley is likely right in pointing out that there's no reason to read too much into the latest couple of Lib candidate departures. But while any national impact may be doubtful, it's worth highlighting that Garry Oledzki's decision to step down may have a significant effect at the riding level in Palliser.

Previously, the riding looked like one with three fairly strong and well-organized contenders, a combination which in the past has resulted in vote splits favouring Con incumbent Dave Batters. But with Batters on medical leave and Oledzki out of the race, the door looks to be wide open for NDP candidate and former Moose Jaw mayor Don Mitchell to get a significant jump on his competition. And it figures to be awfully tough for a new Lib candidate or a recovering Batters to make up that ground before an election this fall - potentially pushing Palliser from somewhat of a second-tier pickup opportunity to one of the NDP's best chances in Saskatchewan.

On weaknesses

The Globe and Mail reports that the governmental mismanagement reflected in Jim Flaherty's early-year deficit is now accompanied by news of the country's worst job losses since...the last time a Conservative government was in power. And yet the Cons apparently think their economic management is somehow a positive, rather than one of the strongest indications that they're woefully unfit for office.

(More from BigCityLib.)

Thursday, August 07, 2008

On backward progress

Not surprisingly, the Cons have done their best to avoid following through on their supposed intention to provide some measurable benchmarks in Afghanistan. But it should be safe to say that whatever the goals are, a massive increase in civilian deaths (particularly ones caused by government/international forces) would have to be a sign that the combat mission isn't accomplishing what it's supposed to:
Bolstering signs that the security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating, UN reports indicate there have been 62 per cent more civilians killed during the first five months of this year compared to the same period last year, putting the death toll on track to top the more than 1,500 Afghan civilians killed in 2007.
According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) officials in Kabul, there were 1,500 civilian casualties in 2007. Of these, 46 per cent were caused by insurgents and other anti-government forces, 41 per cent were inflicted by coalition and pro-government forces, while 13 per cent were "un-attributable" and the result of land mines or crossfire.

By comparison, between January and May 2008, some 698 civilian deaths were recorded by UNAMA, representing a 62 percent increase over the 431 non-combatant deaths recorded in the same period in 2007. However, insurgent attacks were reportedly responsible for 60 per cent of those deaths, compared to 37 per cent being caused by pro-government forces.
What's worse, the breakdown in the article doesn't show just how large the increase in deaths caused by international or government forces looks to have been. Applying the percentages listed in the article, the number would have been in the range of 160 for January to May of 2007, rising to 286 in the same period in 2008 for a 78% increase.

As a result, there doesn't seem to be any plausible case to be made that another year of combat has either made Afghan civilians more secure. And with the number of deaths caused by the government side increasing dramatically, there's plenty of reason to think that the competition for the support of the Afghan populace is also looking worse from last year to this one.

All of which means that once again, about the only goal the current mission seems to be achieving is to bog down as much of the Canadian military for as long as possible in an effort that's going in the wrong direction. And that should offer ample reason for Canadians to want a way out.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A loaded prediction

Shorter Jim Harris:
If you compare these apples to those oranges, then wait till the whole lot goes bad and wash it down with my special mix of bathtub gin and Kool-Aid, you can almost find reason to think the Greens will beat out the NDP in Guelph or Westmount-Ville Marie!

Lessons learned

Shorter Peter MacKay spokespuppet:
So now a cabinet minister is supposed to read every single quote which his party publicly attributes to him, lest he look like an idiot for contradicting it later? Man, this governing thing is hard.

Incidentally, if anybody within the Cons' communication ranks has something approaching a sense of humour, now would seem to be a perfect opportunity to see just what they can slip into a press release without getting noticed. But that's likely why the Cons have set up the Cult of Harper rather than risking any free thought in their midst.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

On misinformation

The CP follows up on last week's Con document dump. And while the release timing was bad enough, it's especially striking how far the Cons went out of their way to send media on a dead end in any effort to follow up on the Bernier report:
When asked Friday about the timing of the Bernier report, the prime minister's communications director refused comment.

The report listed media relations contacts available for further information about the findings, but none were available Friday night.

In an emailed statement on Tuesday, a foreign affairs spokesman wrote: "The department has nothing further to add after the minister's statement and making the report and summary of actions public."
It doesn't come as any particular surprise that the Cons weren't willing to provide any useful response to the report. But having already forced reporters to try to follow up on the story on a Friday night, there wouldn't seem to be much reason for the Cons to pour salt in the wound by deliberately providing useless contact information rather than leaving at least somebody behind to answer the phone.

Of course, the Cons still haven't paid anywhere near the price one would expect for similarly toying with the media in the past. But it may not be long before well-deserved mistrust becomes part of a federal election campaign - giving Canadians the chance to ask why they'd want a government which seemingly prides itself on misusing its power to punish anybody unfortunate enough to be tasked with uncovering what the Cons have hidden.

Update: At least one major columnist recognizes the need for ever more scrutiny in response to the Cons' attempts to bury major stories.


In trying to defend their carbon tax, more than a few Lib supporters have made the point that a carbon tax and other plans like cap and trade aren't mutually exclusive. And in theory, that's a fair enough claim. But it might help if somebody informed Ralph Goodale of that fact, considering that his latest submission to the Leader-Post couldn't be much more clearly directed against the very idea of regulating greenhouse gas emissions:
What about Stephen Harper's plan? Harper is proposing a punitive regulatory scheme. It would involve quasi-criminal penalties against all energy utilities, like SaskPower and SaskEnergy, the oil and gas industry, IPSCO Steel, PotashCorp, Cameco, cement companies, chemical producers and many others.

In their public sales pitch, the Conservatives peddle the false notion that this scheme would be entirely cost-free. Nothing will impact investment or consumers, they claim. They'll just slap carbon regulations on "dirty" businesses spewing emissions.

But if those Conservative regulations are more than just a sham, they will indeed create new business costs to be passed along to consumers. Unlike the Green Shift, however, there will be no offsetting tax cuts of any kind. And a small army of bureaucrats will be required to enforce the Conservative regulations.
Remarkably, Goodale only hints at the virtual certainty that the Cons' intensity-based scheme will be next to useless in actually reducing emissions. Instead, he eagerly throws out loaded terms like "punitive", "quasi-criminal" and "small army of bureaucrats" to try to paint any effort to regulate emissions in as harsh a light as possible - and that analysis applies equally strongly to either the Cons' regulation-only approach, or the cap-and-trade system favoured by the NDP.

From what I can tell, there's absolutely no way to run a cap and trade system without exactly the elements which Goodale is criticizing. It's obvious that some public-sector resources are needed to monitor compliance with any system, and at least some real penalties are surely a vital element in ensuring that industry carries out its obligations to monitor and report on emissions.

Which means that either Goodale's latest screed reflects general Lib disdain for some of the required elements of any cap and trade system, or Goodale is trying to peddle a line which directly contradicts the position which other Libs are trying to use against the NDP in other parts of the country. If it's the former, then the NDP does stand alone as the only federal party looking to include Canada in the international consensus favouring cap and trade - and if the latter, then Canadians have one more reason to doubt anything the Libs say about the carbon tax.

Monday, August 04, 2008

On succession

Among the many problems with the Red Green deal between the Libs and the Greens was the fact that Elizabeth May's choice of riding was one where a strong young NDP voice was already on the verge of knocking off Peter MacKay. But the Halifax Chronicle Herald reports that Alexis MacDonald may soon find her way into Parliament anyway, as MacDonald is expected to announce her candidacy for the nomination in Halifax:
It seems the federal Halifax riding will get its first declared candidate Tuesday in the race to replace NDP icon Alexa McDonough.

New Democrat Alexis MacDonald, who made relatively strong showings in Central Nova, the domain of Conservative Peter MacKay, in 2004 and 2006, has a news conference scheduled at Pier 21. We hear she plans to run for the party nomination.

Ms. MacDonald would be the first declared candidate in the nomination contests for any party, though there’s no shortage of interest in taking a shot at the seat held by Ms. McDonough since 1997.
It remains to be seen who else may want to make a run at the seat: with the Nova Scotia NDP on the verge of forming government, it would seem that the MLAs whose names have been floated as other contenders may have ample reason to stay on the provincial scene.

But with MacDonald in the race, the NDP can be assured of having at least one star name in the mix to succeed McDonough. And if MacDonald can carry out anywhere near as much organization-building that she managed in Central Nova (where she more than doubled the NDP's share of the vote), then the seat figures to soon be hers for a long time to come.

(h/t to David Young at Babble.)

Sunday, August 03, 2008

On negative inferences

As embarrassing as the Bernier report may seem to be, it's worth noting how useful some of its logic may turn out to be later on.

After all, the report's basis for assigning blame almost entirely to Julie Couillard was her refusal to be interviewed for the benefit of the investigation in the absence of any obligation to do so. Which lines up rather nicely with the tactic being taken by Con MPs caught up in Conadscam, who are apparently planning to refuse to appear before the Ethics Committee which is investigating the scandal (with its own report presumably to follow).

Like Couillard, the MPs under investigation are entirely within their rights to refuse to defend or explain their actions. But based on exactly the reasoning which the Cons apparently found to be entirely valid when it comes to Couillard, the MPs caught up in the scheme - including Stockwell Day, Lawrence Cannon, Christian Paradis and Josee Verner among others - can expect to join Couillard in facing a public inference of guilt until they do so.