Saturday, August 01, 2009

On common experiences

Even the National Post can't help pointing out the problems encountered by a large number of governments relying on nuclear power:
Globally, half of the 45 reactors currently under construction have encountered construction delays and many are over-budget, according to an analysis recently tabled to the German government. These delays and hefty cost overruns, together with the recession's decreased energy demand, have prompted a closer look at what was just years ago considered the world's favourite energy source.

The Point Lepreau station in New Brunswick -- Atlantic Canada's only nuclear facility and the first CANDU-6 reactor to undergo a complete rebuild -- has been under refurbishment since March 2008 and is now seven months behind schedule. The province is on the hook for roughly $150-million in additional replacement fuel costs, and will rack up another $20 million for every month the project is delayed.

In Finland, a massive power plant touted as the poster child of the nuclear renaissance has been under construction for four years. While the reactor was scheduled for completion this summer, Areva, the French company building it and one of three bidders on Ontario's Darlington project, is now unwilling to predict when it will go online. The reactor, slated to be the biggest in the world with an excavation site the size of 55 football fields, is today roughly 50% over budget.

Russia announced last week that it will rein in construction of new reactors because of the financial downturn and a decline in electricity consumption. Though the government planned to build two units each year over the next several years, it has "corrected" that plan by halving production to one unit per year.

Officials in the U.S. announced in April it would suspend construction of a $6-billion nuclear project in Missouri. Two months later, the country's largest nuclear power generator, Exelon, said it was "ramping back" plans to build a proposed nuclear plant in Texas.

"The industry has predicted that new cheap reactors, in a world searching for silver-bullet solutions to climate change, would revive an industry moribund since Chernobyl," said Shawn-Patrick Stensil, spokesman for Greenpeace Canada, referring to the 1986 nuclear disaster that left an entire Ukraine city uninhabitable. "Ontario's delay shows the industry is failing to deliver on cheap reactors."

Patently ridiculous

David Akin's post on prescription drug research and development is definitely worth a read. But it's worth filling in a few pieces of background information to demonstrate the appalling demands being made by Big Pharma - and the unfortunate likelihood that the Cons would be receptive to them.

Here's Akin:
(T)he lobby group for the big pharmaceuticals had been pushing for an extension on their patent protections, promising, in return, to spend 10 per cent of Canadian sales on R&D in Canada. The Industry Canada policy officers note that: "... after peaking in 1997 at 12.9% [of sales], [Big Pharma spending on R&D] has declined to 8.5% in 2006. The dollar value of their R&D has been flat at about $1.2 billion while sales have continued to grow.
Now, the first point worth noting is that the Cons had already given Big Pharma a freebie on exclusive sales of brand-name prescription drugs which aren't covered by normal patent rules. For those drugs - estimated to cover roughly a quarter of the prescription drug market - the Cons increased the window for exclusive sales from five years to eight without apparently getting anything in return other than the industry's gratitude.

So what was the cost of that giveaway? Estimates at the time pegged the cost at approximately $120 million per year, based on three extra years of exclusive rights to a quarter of Canada's prescription drug market.

Let's use that number as a rough guide and set the cost of a year's exclusive right related to a set of drugs covering a quarter of the prescription drug market at $40 million. Since patented drugs involve the other three-quarters of the brand-name drug market, that would put the cost of a year's extra protection for them at $120 million.

But then, most of the mooted extensions of patent protection would involve adding five years to the current 20-year term. So the actual annual cost of meeting what figures to be Big Pharma's demand would be in the range of $600 million.

What would the federal government expect to receive in exchange for its agreement to hand that much money from patients and provinces to Big Pharma? Based on the percentages listed in Akin's article, the current sales included in the calculation are in the range of $14 billion. From there, the promised increase in research would amount to 1.5% of the current sales amount (since research would go from 8.5% to 10%) - resulting in an extra $210 million being spent annually on research.

In sum, then, the deal proposed by Big Pharma would involve it taking $600 million in free money, in exchange for its putting barely a third of that into Canadian research which would itself lead to future profits. Needless to say, it's not hard to see why the brand-name drug industry would love that outcome - but the result would be an obvious disaster for the Canadian public.

But wait, there's more!

After all, it's not as if the drug companies themselves are likely to want to stop doing research anytime soon. And Akin provides another piece of information from the report cited as to the relative costs of carrying out R & D in Canada and elsewhere:
Costs of research and Development R&D costs per drug in 2005 averaged US$605 million for chemical pharmaceuticals and US$559 million for bio-pharmaceuticals and took 12-13 years to reach market approval by health authorities (source: Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development).
There is variability between firms depending on the drug, number of failures and government R&D funding. In Canada, drug R&D costs are lower due to lower R&D and clinical trial costs (KPMG).
So Canada already enjoys a competitive advantage over other countries in terms of the actual cost of prescription drug R & D. Which means that Big Pharma is effectively asking for a massive subsidy to do what's already in its best interest - namely, carrying out research in the country where that can be done most efficiently for distribution around the world.

All of which is to say that there's no reason why the federal government should be doing anything other than laughing off the demands of the brand-name pharmaceutical industry. But unfortunately, the Cons' track record doesn't reflect any apparent interest in doing anything but taking the industry's orders. Which means that it's far too likely that Canada's health care system and patients will once again end up paying for the Cons' tendency to put Big Pharma first.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Musical interlude

Armin Van Buuren feat. Nadia Ali - Who is Watching? (DJ Remy Remix)

Alone in the world

The Globe and Mail's article on Canada's effective support for the coup against Manuel Zelaya in Honduras is worth a read generally. But the most important part of the story seems to me to be buried beneath discussion of a relatively small military training program:
The U.S., which has major military operations in Honduras, announced a week after the coup that it was suspending $17.9-million in military aid and an estimated $195-million in development aid. The EU also suspended development aid of about $100-million.

“We're focusing our support on President Arias's attempts to find a non-violent, mediated solution, and the earliest possible return of President Zelaya and Honduras to democratic practice and principle,” said Mr. Kent, who has spoken directly to the key players.

He added Canada is not cutting the $16.4-million in development aid it provides each year to Honduras.
So while the world's other developed countries have put up a united stand against the coup by declining to use public money to support the overthrow of the democratically-elected Zelaya, Canada alone is continuing to funnel money into the country. And presumably the money which the Cons are choosing to send is allowing those involved in the coup to paper over the loss of funding from elsewhere - helping to undermine exactly the effort toward reinstating Zelaya which Kent claims to support.

Of course, there's some problem as well with the Canadian military helping to train troops who may be used to suppress the citizens of Honduras in support of the usurpers. But the bigger issue would seem to be not a single troop exchange program, but the need to pressure the Cons not to spend Canadian development money to prop up an illegitimate government. And the longer the Cons stick out as the only government willing to provide resources for the use of the Honduran junta, the more of a beating Canada's reputation is bound to take when it comes to promoting democracy around the world.

On costly choices

Susan Riley:
The much-heralded nuclear "renaissance" appears to have stalled this summer, at least temporarily -- not because of unsettled questions over the disposal of radioactive waste, or fear of nuclear accidents, but because the costs of building new reactors is proving prohibitive.

That, at least, was Premier Dalton McGuinty's explanation for his government's recent decision not to proceed with two new reactors for Ontario's Darlington facility. They were expected to cost $6 billion; the final tally from Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, the winning bidder, was rumoured to be closer to $26 billion.

Shortly after, Bruce Power, the private company that operates two nuclear facilities for the McGuinty government, announced that it was pulling the plug on new installations at Nanticoke on Lake Erie and Port Elgin on Lake Huron. It has decided to refurbish existing reactors rather than buy new ones.
Elsewhere, while European governments move to embrace nuclear power and memories of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl fade, the nuclear revival is also running into practical roadblocks. Finland's attempt to create a new reactor is three years behind schedule and 50 per cent over budget. Plans to build two reactors in Texas have been postponed. An accident at a German reactor days (sic) has revived apprehensions.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

On advancement

A couple of notes worth mentioning in Saskatchewan's NDP circles...

First, the Saskatchewan NDP's provincial caucus has named Stephen Moore as its new chief of staff. And aside from congratulating Stephen on the hiring, I'll note that the move has some interesting ramifications both provincially and federally.

On the provincial level, the hiring looks to be an astute one, as Moore's party commitment, progressive bona fides and base of knowledge and skills figure to be major assets for the provincial caucus as it charts its next course. But of course, that comes at the apparent cost of someone who I'd hoped would continue to carry the party banner in my home riding of Wascana - opening up another Regina-area seat for potential new contenders.

Speaking of which, one prospective campaign in the most promising of those ridings looks to be off to a good start. Noah Evanchuk hasn't yet unveiled an official website, but he's already working on fund-raising in advance of a formal launch.

Of course, Evanchuk was already doing well in his Facebook support at over 300 and counting. But it's the more the merrier for both public endorsements and fund-raising to support his campaign as it develops - so feel free to stop by and show some support for what looks to be the best chance of pulling Palliser out of Con hands and into those of the NDP.

Truly shocking

Apparently some political parties still allow their members to vote their preference among qualified candidates for party president, rather than pushing everybody but the leader's choice out of the race. Who knew?

Fish Time

Shorter Lawrence Martin:

Achievement in the arena of business lobbying does not come without hardship—sometimes, it can even be as difficult to obtain as is the cloaca of a female river trout. This is why only the most loyal, brave, and commercially intuitive business leader John Manley is overseeing the Canadian Council of Chief Executives empire, always cautious not to act in ways unbefitting the continued harmony of the CCCE. There can be no dispute of this claim.

(See here for background.)

Someday, this could all be ours

The latest from Chalk River:
Radioactive water has stopped leaking from the nuclear reactor at Chalk River, Ont., ending two months of low-level radiation seeping into the atmosphere near Ottawa.

Workers with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. recently completed draining the reactor's 65,000-litre vessel and are now preparing to dispatch a remote-controlled ultra-sonic probe deep into the disabled machine to inspect the site of a pinhole leak of tritium-laced heavy water that began May 14.

What it reveals will help determine what is expected to be a delicate, complex and potentially costly repair strategy.

Most of the leaking water was slowly captured and stored in special drums and is to be reused when the National Research Universal reactor restarts. But about 20% evaporated and was drawn into the building's ventilation system. To prevent a dangerous buildup of tritium inside the NRU building, the airborne tritium was steadily released into the atmosphere as the leak progressed.

The quantity going into the surrounding air, some of which then fell on land and into the Ottawa River, was well within current maximum health limits. Still, those limits were publicly questioned in June by the federal nuclear safety commissioner, echoing a long-running debate over what constitutes safe exposure to cancer-causing tritium, especially in drinking water.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Then and now

"The contents of the EI working group are confidential," Ryan Sparrow, the newly installed spokesman for Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, said in a brief interview.

"We hope the Liberal party maintains that confidentiality as well."
The blue-ribbon panel on employment insurance reform that saved Canadians from a summer election is not going well.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley emerged from a summer Conservative caucus meeting on Parliament Hill today and went straight to the waiting microphone.

The minister responsible for EI suggested the six member panel is at loggerheads and blamed Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.

“Over the summer we've been conducting meetings on EI and Mr. Ignatieff and the Liberal members have publicly stated they are not willing to move off their 360 hour entry point for Employment Insurance,” she said, describing the position as “academic fantasy land.”

She said the Liberals must come forward with specific, detailed proposals that won't require a raise in taxes.
Of course, a major part of the problem has to do with the fact that the Libs chose to put themselves in a position where they have to rely on the Cons' goodwill to accomplish anything - with results that were obvious from day one. But in case anybody was operating under the misplaced belief that the Cons were suddenly going to take the EI panel as an opportunity to try being reasonable for the first time, the answer is no such luck.

On diverging interests

Shorter L. Ian MacDonald:

The Harper Cons stand to benefit massively if they can avoid an election this fall and run on a wave of Olympic patriotism in 2010. But I'd like the Liberals to prop up the government this fall as if they had no idea about those consequences.

(Mind you, it's all the more sad that the Libs are entirely likely to take MacDonald's concern-trolling advice and keep supporting Harper.)

Deep thought

Wouldn't it be nice to have a provincial government who pushed the province to discuss how to meet ambitious renewable energy targets, rather than how to get out of its previous environmental promises?

On slanted perspectives

If Simon's post on the Globe and Mail's Silver/Powers blog goes off course at all, it's in his apparent view that Tim Powers' relentless stream of Con talking points would suggest somebody one would want to "have a beer with". But he nicely hints at a point that I'd been thinking about myself as well.

On paper, the structure of Silver/Powers would seem to make sense as an attempt to facilitate a clash of points between the Libs and Cons. Of course that itself presents an unduly limited picture of the political scene, but in theory it at least offers some prospect of "balance" as defined by conventional corporate-media wisdom.

But with increasingly rare exceptions, the result has proven to be something else entirely. Both Powers and Silver seem to be spending most of their time launching attacks to their left: Silver has made a hobby out of bashing unions, David Miller and any policy which might be anything other than big business' first choice (secure in the knowledge that none of his targets enjoys a similar platform to respond), while Powers is able to rest assured that Silver is more interested in attacking anybody with NDP leanings than in addressing any but the most inflammatory of Harper-style cheap shots directed his way.

As a result, rather than even meeting the already-modest goal of presenting a clash over an artificial "centre", the Globe and Mail's excuse for a back-and-forth discussion is instead working consistently to move the boundaries of Canadian political discussion further to the right. But I suppose those of us who see politics as more than an argument about what colour should accompany a corporatist agenda should be taking solace in the fact that a blogger who "has at one time or another canvassed door to door for all parties save the Marxist Leninists" has meekly suggested that Michael Ignatieff should pretend to be progressive.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

On icebreakers

Following up on the Star Phoenix' editorial which I linked to this morning, let's note one other development which speaks volumes about the gap between what the Cons have promised when it comes to the Arctic and what they have any apparent intention of delivering:
Defence analysts have complained that the Conservatives are forcing both the navy and coast guard to shoehorn their purchases into a pre-defined budget, rather building ships that make sense.

The most recent example is the Harper government's pet project to construct six Arctic patrols ships. In order to stay within budget, the navy recently watered down its expectations of what the light icebreakers, meant to enforce Canada's sovereignty in the North, can do.
Or, put in visual terms, the Cons are claiming credit for this:

But with the Cons having been too busy declaring their own greatness to actually get much done, the actual results are more like this:

The reviews are in

Adam Radwanski:
The general consensus seems to be that Teneycke is considerably easier to deal with, on a personal level, than Buckler. But if the government's communication style was any different with him in charge than it was with her, it was very difficult to notice. The flow of information was still abysmal; the attacks on opponents were still gratuitous; the suspicion of media was still apparent.

If any proof was needed of the extent to which Stephen Harper's personality overwhelms everyone in his employ, the Teneycke experience helped provide it...

This may not let other staffers - notably Guy Giorno - off the hook for some of the miscalculations under their nominal watch. But it does remind us that there's no point trying to cast blame (or credit) too broadly for what happens in the PMO.

Burning question

So when can we expect Stephen Harper's apology for declaring that the communion wafer controversy reflected a deliberate attempt to foment religious strife rather than a matter of poor editing?

The reviews are in

The Star Phoenix editorial board:
The commitment looks impressive on paper: The government will procure new Arctic patrol vessels, build the largest icebreaker in the Canadian fleet, set up a deep-sea port, establish military bases and bolster the historic -- and historically underfunded -- Canadian Rangers.

It is fortunate that it looks good on paper, in three official languages including English, French and Inuktitut -- because on paper is the only place where the commitment exists.
It is telling that the three ministers who made the announcement about the latest installment of Canada's Arctic sovereignty commitment did so at a museum in Gatineau rather than anywhere near the territory they so eloquently defended. Given that the Arctic still lacks adequate infrastructure, it presumably would have been extremely difficult for the ministers to get there with enough media in tow and return in time for the Conservatives' mid-summer caucus in Ottawa, where party members are being prepped for an imminent federal election.

Monday, July 27, 2009

On daunting frontiers

Susan Delacourt tries to talk seriously about a substantive issue in discussing the rural/urban gap in female representation in the House of Commons:
Rural areas are the daunting frontier for women with dreams of getting elected in Canada, according to new, in-depth research.

Louise Carbert, of Dalhousie University in Halifax, has been systematically analyzing how female politicians are faring in Canada's urban-rural divide. Carbert's work has been published in Sylvia Bashevkin's new book, Opening Doors Wider: Women's Political Engagement in Canada. Carbert's main – and sobering – finding is that women are twice as likely to get elected in Canada if they come from urban areas. In 2008, women were elected in 31 per cent of the most densely populated areas of Canada, compared to 14 per cent in rural districts.

"This ratio has persisted over several decades despite substantial increases in the number of women elected overall," Carbert's study says.

So if you're serious about upping the numbers of women in Canadian legislatures, she says, you have to get out of the cities, and into the country.
Some say women are under-represented in rural areas because Conservatives generally win in those ridings and Conservatives aren't that friendly to women politicians. The current Conservative caucus is made up of 16 per cent women.
But needless to say, the Cons will have none of it:
But a spokesperson from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office disputes that notion, pointing out that cabinet ministers such as Diane Finley, Leona Aglukkaq, Gail Shea and Helena Guergis all hail from rural areas, as do several strong Conservative women MPs.

"To suggest there are no strong women representing rural areas flies in the face of the facts and is, in fact, playing to a false stereotype," said PMO spokesman Andrew MacDougall. "It is the Liberals and NDP who have real trouble electing anyone – man or woman – in rural areas because they are out of touch with rural Canada."
Now, seldom will one see such a concise example of the Cons' usual bag of PR tricks at work.

Gross misrepresentation of any position which could possibly operate against their interests, in this case turning an issue of systemic underrepresentation into a fictitious claim of "no strong women"? Check.

Gratuitous bashing of competing parties on issues which have nothing at all to do with the topic at hand? Check.

A complete failure to consider the logical consequences of their own arguments, since if the other two parties in fact "have real trouble electing anyone" in rural areas then the Cons could seemingly fix any underrepresentation issues on their own? Check.

Which raises the question: when that kind of slash-and-burn, reflexively-negative mindset has been rewarded with wins in the past two elections, isn't it a miracle that anybody's still bothering with politics at all?

Deep thought

Last I checked, neither idle election speculation nor an increase in blind partisanship was high on the list of things we need more of in Ottawa.

On consultations

For those waiting until the last minute to put together a submission in response to the UDP report on the nuclear industry, the deadline is coming up this Friday, July 31. Check out the Coalition for a Clean Green Saskatchewan's site for a handy list of materials.

Meanwhile, the federal copyright consultations are in full swing, with the first set of submissions going public this weekend. There's plenty of time left until the September deadline - but why wait when you can take action now?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Liberals Roll Over: Afghanistan

Ever since Canada's combat role in Kandahar began, there's been a significant amount of public concern about the mission. But we've now reached the point where a majority of Canadians want our troops brought back home whether or not they're in a combat role - signalling that the public's concern about the mission has only grown with time.

Unfortunately, that concern has never been reflected in the government's actions. And ever since Stephen Harper took power, it's the Libs who have allowed and encouraged the Cons' desire to keep a combat mission going as long as possible to determine Canada's direction.

The first key Afghanistan vote after the Cons took power was of course on a 2006 motion to extend the mission until 2009. And the vote should have been a gimme for the Libs as an exercise in reining in a minority government testing just what kind of abuse its opponents would put up with.

Not only did the Cons choose not to make the Afghanistan vote a matter of confidence, but they also declared that they'd extend the mission by one more year regardless of the rseult of the vote. So even Libs who agreed with the combat mission in principle had reason to vote the motion down in response to the Cons' arrogance.

Needless to say, no such thing happened on the Libs' free vote on the motion. Most Libs voting did oppose the extension - but enough voted with the Cons to allow them to pass their motion by a slim four-vote margin. And the "yea" votes who had no problem with extending the mission even in the face of the Cons' overreach included both the Libs' then-interim leader Bill Graham, and current leader Michael Ignatieff - whose votes against along with the attendance of former PM Paul Martin would have been enough to defeat the motion.

Incidentally, while Stephane Dion voted against the motion, he had previously argued that the Cons shouldn't even allow the matter to be voted on in one of the Libs' more painful examples of defending executive power in the Cons' hands in hopes of wielding the same themselves. But after taking over the leadership, Dion at least put up a facade of wanting to avoid any further extensions. Which should have allowed the Libs to join forces with the NDP and Bloc to demand that the mission be ended in 2009.

In the spring of 2007, though, the Libs put forward a motion which coupled a 2009 end date with an endorsement of combat until that time - the latter of which served as a poison pill to prevent the NDP from offering its support. And as a result of that gamesmanship (which the NDP responded to by putting forward its own motion calling for an end to combat as soon as possible) there was never a united show of opposition to any extension in Parliament at that time.

Mind you, the Cons didn't figure to pay too much attention to a vote which wasn't held on their terms. But they didn't figure to have much choice but to face the issue in their fall throne speech, where another of Stephane Dion's demands was a 2009 end to the combat mission.

Needless to say, the Libs allowed the throne speech to pass despite its inclusion of a further extension and Harper's declaration that everything within it would be a confidence matter.

But the Cons apparently figured they still had room to embarrass the Libs further. Which they did by appointing John Manley to chair a panel of well-known hawks to rubber-stamp an extension for the combat mission.

There may have been an out for the Libs if they'd taken a strong line against the legitimacy of a panel which was obviously selected for the purpose of pushing through an extension which Dion had said would never be permitted. But instead, the Libs sat quietly, and by the time the report came back with (surprise, surprise!) a recommendation of an extension to 2011, there was little doubt that the Libs' rollover was all but complete.

Which isn't to say that the Libs couldn't find a few more ways to shoot themselves in the foot before backing down. Instead, they carried out a set of public negotations which allowed the Cons to threaten an election over the issue, while "winning" only a 2011 end date which is far too likely to be revisited under either of the main parties - along with "accountability" terms which provided for little more than glossy promotional brochures for the combat mission and have failed to stop the Cons from actually hiding more information as time goes on. And all this just months after a 2009 end to the mission was supposedly a condition for the Libs' willingness to keep the Cons in power.

Rather than seeing that result as the disaster that it was when he took over the Libs' leadership, Michael Ignatieff's reaction was to point to it as his template for dealings with the Harper government. Which should make it less than surprising that this year's confidence showdowns have similarly seen the Cons doing nothing more than promising to sing their own praises a bit more often.

So where do we now stand on Afghanistan, a year-plus after the first end date available if the Libs had voted down the Cons' first extension motion? In theory, the most recent motion calls for a 2011 end date for combat. But this year, there's been a noticeable push afoot to hint at an extension now that the U.S. has a more popular administration. And there can't be much doubt that if the Cons want to push through another extension, they can always find a Lib willing to push their own party into backing Harper (say, what's Bill Graham up to these days?) - or simply count on the Libs to roll over on another vote.

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Naturally, there were a few ugly points to be found in yesterday's loss to the Eskimos. But while the game unfortunately drops the 'Riders out of sole possession of first place (with a significant risk of dropping further in the standings over the next couple of weeks), the game also seemed to me to hint at a team with loads of potential for growth as the season goes on.

Most importantly, yesterday's game was the first one where the 'Riders' offence showed some significant ability to generate yards and points when tested.

Even in the team's two earlier wins, it mostly put points on the board by taking advantage of a short field off turnovers. And the team's woeful second-half point totals hinted at serious trouble reacting to defensive adjustments during the course of the game.

But yesterday, the offence faced four series where it started off under particular pressure. And every time it performed admirably.

The first was of course the first-half drive where Richie Hall chose to hem the 'Riders in with a punt rather than kicking a makeable field goal - a move which made sense to me only if one sees a reasonable prospect of forcing a turnover which will lead to more points. Rather than either making a mistake or handing the ball back in great field position, Darien Durant and the offence instead cobbled together a brilliant 102-yard drive (featuring three runs and three passes of 10+ yards apiece) for a touchdown which gave the 'Riders their biggest lead of the game.

From there, the offence went dormant until late in the third quarter. Which is where I'd see some serious room for improvement: especially with a once-massive lead having been reduced to a modest one by halftime, the offence seemed unduly conservative and unambitious, allowing the Esks to spend most of the third quarter on the attack and take the lead. And the issue went beyond receivers having difficulty getting open, as Durant again appeared tentative at times in running the ball when that seemed to be his best chance of generating first downs.

But as soon as the 'Riders were down, the offence woke up again, putting together a 75-yard drive to take back the lead. And on its last two series with a chance to decide the game, the offence found ways to move the ball into Edmonton territory - getting stopped only by a questionable spot on a line plunge, then a questionable incompletion call on a pass which would have kept their last drive going.

Of course, close doesn't count in football. But it does at least serve as a useful indication of whether a team is on the right track. And while the offence plainly needs to work on its consistency over the course of a game, its methodical demolition of Edmonton's defence on the two long drives in particular should offer a strong indication of what the 'Riders are capable of accomplishing at their best.

On the downside, the 'Riders' defence had a rough game by all accounts. Granted, there's never much likelihood of outright stopping an offence led by Ricky Ray - but it's at least possible to make his life difficult with pressure and creative looks, and the 'Riders disappointingly didn't manage to do much of that after the first quarter (when it seemed like they might be able to frustrate Ray the way they did Buck Pierce in the season's first game). And the 'Riders' tackling took another turn for the worse, with both Calvin McCarty and Arkee Whitlock scoring on long touchdown runs where multiple defenders made contact but didn't finish the job.

Unfortunately, the schedule gets tougher for the 'Riders from here on in, with a couple of road games coming up against West rivals who will be eager to bury the team at the bottom of the division. And with the defence getting exposed over the last couple of weeks while the offence is still getting in gear, fans may have to brace themselves for an ugly-looking record in the near future.

But at this point in the season, I'd be less concerned with the immediate record than with whether the 'Riders are developing a complete team capable of holding its own with the CFL's elite when it counts. And if the 'Riders can build on their positives from yesterday's game, then there's plenty of reason for hope that they won't need close calls to finish off key drives once the games matter most.

The reviews are in

Sean Bruyea:
Conservatives and Liberals alike have been calling to muzzle Page and his office. Parties of both sides have been attacking his efforts to inform all Canadians how government spends our money.

Unbelievably, opposition MP Liberal Carolyn Bennett said that Page has behaved as if the reports were his property. What a curious accusation since most level-headed Canadians would likely come to the opposite conclusion.

Is it not the politicians and bureaucrats who have been acting like our money is theirs to spend as they wish? Is it not government which all too frequently has been avoiding accountability and keeping truth from the public they ostensibly serve?

Yes politics and government bureaucracy are far too dirty for most Canadians. We don't know who or what to believe. Canadians are losing interest in democracy precisely because of this. All the more reason for Canada to protect the likes of the Parliamentary Budget Office, which makes government spending more transparent for Canadians and parliamentarians, should they be willing to listen.