Saturday, December 12, 2009

Doubling down

Shorter Christie Blatchford:

To those who criticized me for my last set of obviously biased leaks which were disproven to the point that even my own employer was forced to apologize for my shoddy journalism: what say you to an entirely new set of obviously biased leaks?

No ability to comment

Shorter Rick Hillier:

As the Harper government's leading spokesflack in denying that there's any evidence that Afghan detainees were tortured, I see no reason to bother paying attention to any evidence that Afghan detainees were tortured.

The reviews are in

The Star Phoenix editorial board:
That the Conservatives in power have developed a bad case of political myopia that renders them unable to separate their party's interests from those of ordinary Canadians was evident in the dozens of government stimulus cheques adorned with the party logo handed out by Tory MPs and ministers across the land.

But even as Canada's ethics commissioner Mary Dawson begins her investigation into whether the use of these ceremonial cheques backed by public funds "furthers a private interest," a news report suggest that Prime Minister Stephen Harper may be using taxpayer funds to burnish his own political image.
Mr. Harper's spokesman Dimitri Soudas, says there's no difference between the videos, which are being made available to news organizations online, and the routine photos distributed by the Prime Minister's Office to media.

The problem, of course, is Mr. Soudas's attempt to portray these videos as just "another form of communication with the media." Responding to criticism that, in no way does this practice provide reporters access to the prime minister, he said:

"The media can't have it both ways. They can't criticize us for not providing enough information and then criticize us for providing too much information."

The sticking point, of course, is whether this indeed is "information" for the purpose of presenting intelligible news to Canadians or regurgitating pre-packaged public relations claptrap from the PMO meant only to serve Mr. Harper's political objectives.


Needless to say, yesterday's story on how NDP MP Megan Leslie managed to use ten-percenters to benefit artists in her riding makes it clear why the Cons and Libs have to see the NDP as a serious threat. After all, if Canadians start getting the idea that MPs can make valuable contributions to their own constituencies rather than serving solely as talking-point delivery devices, where will that leave them?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Musical interlude

Underworld - Crocodile

Somehow no amount of snark is enough

I can only presume that the Cons' list of achievements now includes finally and absolutely bludgeoning irony to death:
Five Conservative federal cabinet ministers held a session-ending news conference Friday to remind Canadians of their government's achievements and to attack the Liberals for politicizing Parliament.

“Canadians expect their elected representatives here in Ottawa to work together,” Transport Minister John Baird told reporters. “Sadly, the Liberal Party has chosen a very different path. They have taken every opportunity to politicize every issue and to score cheap political points no matter how important the issues are to Canadians.”
It was a message that was repeated in French by Public Works Minister Christian Paradis, who also took shots at the Bloc Québécois for making personal attacks against his Conservative colleagues.

Blatant Straw Men 101

Shorter Norman Spector:

As Canada's political parties weigh the important legal and constitutional considerations surrounding Parliament's role in carrying out effective oversight of the government, I'd encourage them to keep in mind that Parliament contains...(gasp)...OOGABOOGASEPARATISTS!!! And in case you missed it the first time, OOGABOOGASEPARATISTS!!!!

On prebuttals

I'm sure Susan Delacourt means well in suggesting a "compromise" where opposition MPs would receive access to information about Afghan detainees only after being sworn to the Privy Council and agreeing not to disclose the truth further. But as I've already noted, the reasons why the Cons might be perfectly willing to take that step are the same ones which make it highly dangerous for the opposition parties to accept an only slightly expanded cone of silence. So again, the proper position is to point out the sheer implausibility of the Cons' claim to have any reason to keep the requested documents hidden - not to accept any arrangement which relieves the Cons of public responsibility for their actions.

The reviews are in

Murray Mandryk:
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall's recent radio advertisements (even if they are paid for by his own party) boasting that his government now has a balanced budget are patently misleading and borderline dishonest.

But what was more telling was Wall's petulant justification Wednesday for these ads. You quickly got the distinct impression that, for the first time, he's feeling a little heat.

You also get the distinct impression that he's not handling it particularly well.
It's hard to figure which of Wall's notions was more idiotically comical -- that he now seems to think he's the first Saskatchewan politician to ever be criticized for such financial jiggery-pokery or that he could possibly feel hard-done-by by the media.


The Leader-Post misses what's sure to have been part of its story about 2011 election planning. So here's the fixed version:
(The NDP's Kevin) Yates said he hope(s) the Sask. Party is not so caught up in thinking about the 2011 election that it neglects the work it needs to do in government.

But Energy and Resources Minister Bill Boyd -- recently named by Wall to be Sask. Party campaign chair -- said that won't happen.

Pressed as to whether the answer should be "will happen" or "won't happen", Boyd noted that he might not have the correct information with him, and asked for time to allow his aides to work it out. After 90 minutes of Boyd cursing under his breath while whispering back and forth with his staffers, Sask Party MLA Tim McMillan stepped in to advise that the interview was over.


In the midst of all that's been happening on the Afghan torture front this week, one awfully important story based on information already available to the public seems to have largely slipped under the radar. So for those who haven't yet found their way to thwap's post on the deliberate effort made by Canada to wash its hands of the treatment of anybody captured by our troops, go read.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Now where have we heard this before...

Shorter Con response to the House of Commons law clerk's analysis pointing out the supremacy of Parliament in requesting documents from the government:

In keeping with the distinctive nature of Canadian parliamentary democracy, the President Prime Minister can hide any document from Congress Parliament merely by mouthing the magic words "national security".

On full disclosure

Full credit to the Libs for presenting a motion to compel the Cons to disclose unredacted copies of documents related to Afghan detainees to Parliament - and hopefully the motion will pass to prevent the Cons from continuing their cover-up. But it's worth noting some risk in the underlying argument that Parliament alone should be entitled to information which is seen to be unfit for public consumption.

Remember that many of the worst abuses by the U.S. government under Bushco were defended later on the basis that Democrats were informed of their existence. And that the fact that the opposition officials were sworn to secrecy and lacked any practical means to stop the abuse didn't stop a bullying government from claiming that their failure to act immediately made for tacit agreement with the policy.

Of course, that wasn't a reasonable position by any stretch of the imagination. But it did create a handy distraction tactic as soon as revelations did leak into the public eye - ensuring that the governing party wouldn't bear sole responsibility for its own actions, while the public would perceive insiders of all parties as having hidden information. And in order to avoid a similar precedent that important information on a matter of public interest should be disclosed only to MPs, I'd think the opposition parties should be careful to ensure that as much information as possible also finds its way to the public.

All too true

Canada has come to the point where the idea of Afghans being tortured is just fine with a huge chunk of the population. Canada is also a place where the phrase "objectively wrong" has been wiped from the public domain and has been replaced by "politically survivable". We have become a nation of apathetic sheep, led by a group of cynical wolves. Peter MacKay is safe because Harper believes Canadians will be too busy watching the World Juniors to care whether or not his Defense Minister is a war criminal. The unfortunate thing is, I believe he is right. Peter MacKay should not run anything larger than a fruit stand on the highway. He will however be a Minister of the Crown for as long as we let his boss get away with it.


The news that the Wall government is planning to eliminate dozens of provincial boards and commissions doesn't really mean much on its own. But taking a closer look at exactly what's being axed, there's serious reason for concern that the Sask Party is entirely eager to cut off important lines of communication with unfriendly stakeholders - and all without any actual savings resulting from the move to insulate Sask Party ministers from genuine input.

To start with, the majority of the boards and commissions to be cut do appear to be ones which are dormant or which have completed their work. In most of those cases, the decision to carry out officially what's already happened in practice serves as a mildly useful administrative move, though not one which can plausibly be claimed to save money or otherwise result in government efficiencies. (Though it's worth noting that the Sask Party itself may have something to do with driving some committees into hibernation: take for example the Minister's Provincial Park Advisory Committee, which held its last meeting just after the Wall government took power, and is now being slashed for having "not been active since November 2007".)

Another broad group of the committees being cut includes those which are explicitly being replaced by something else of the Sask Party's creation. Notable on this list are the current advisory committees on drug and alcohol abuse and HIV/AIDS, as well as labour and education forums.

Now, this might be seen as somewhat less objectionable than a declaration that input actually isn't required on those issues. But the replacement of one committee with another does raise a couple of important issues.

First, it's downright dishonest for the Sask Party to claim savings from eliminating the existing committee without taking into account the cost of creating a new one - particularly when there's bound to be more work involved in developing something from scratch than maintaining an existing structure. And more importantly, it's worth wondering whether the new committees will actually represent as broad a group of participants as the existing committees, or whether the Sask Party will pick and choose only those voices which they want to hear in areas where there's obvious potential for socon or corporatist biases to lead to disastrous results.

Which is of course an even greater problem where existing consultation mechanisms are being replaced with absolutely nothing. And there are many key areas where the Wall government is sending a clear signal that it doesn't think meaningful stakeholder consultations are worth its time.

Oddly enough, the largest group of these falls under the agriculture portfolio, where no less than 8 advisory committees are being eliminated on the basis that the Ministry of Agriculture "already consults directly" with affected parties. But there's a significant difference between the type of consultation available through an ongoing committee which both facilitates discussion among stakeholders and provides a regular checkpoint between that stakeholder group and the government, and that based simply on a Ministry dealing with parties on a one-on-one basis. And the Sask Party's eagerness to systematically eliminate the latter type doesn't speak well to its interest in working collaboratively with the groups involved.

Among other particularly egregious examples:
- The Advisory Committee on Family Planning is to be disbanded, with its role taken over by non-government organizations. Who else sees a possible issue with allowing right-wing politicians to hand-pick their ideological buddies to set the province's direction on reproductive health?
- FSIN's Circle of Partners Advisory Committee - highlighted just this spring as an example of the Sask Party's commitment to engaging with First Nations - has apparently been "determined to be unnecessary by Enterprise (Saskatchewan)". We'll see how kindly the FSIN takes to being told by big business that its input is neither necessary nor welcome.
- The Early Learning and Child Care Advisory Board is being eliminated in favour of "ad hoc" consultations. Which would seem to send a strong signal that child care is headed absolutely nowhere as long as Wall is in power.
- Finally, the Provincial Youth Advisory Committee is being cut on the basis that "(youth) representatives on boards across government make this Committee unnecessary". Aside from the issue of allowing for collaborative efforts rather than mere token representation, that seems to leave the door wide open for a single Sask Party supporter to be taken to speak for youth across the province on any given issue.

We'll find out soon just how determined the Sask Party is to follow through on the cuts. But from what I can tell, the Wall government's move seems to be aimed entirely at trying to selectively freeze out voices it doesn't like rather than actually finding efficiencies - and it'll be important for everybody affected to speak out now before being silenced by the Sask Party.

The reviews are in

To date, coverage of Brad Wall by national media outlets has been almost uniformly fawning even as he's come under rightful criticism within Saskatchewan for his government's gross mismanagement. Now, Brian Topp takes reality to the national stage:
(T)he province is going to withdraw $564-million from a reserve fund, another $460-million from a Crown asset sale, is going to pocket some federal infrastructure funding (wasn’t that supposed to go to “shovel-ready” projects?) and will impose a budget freeze and a number of other spending measures to deal with the issue. This is what permits Premier Wall to claim that he is running a deficit while maintaining a balanced budget.

More evidence, if any was needed, that it is fiscal madness to rely on mercurial, one-time resource royalties to pay for tax cuts and spending increases.

A similar abuse of royalties collected from fossil fuels funds populist fraud next door(the “Alberta advantage”, allowing today’s citizens to pretend they live in a low-tax jurisdiction, fuelled by a bonfire of their children’s provincial inheritance). Stephen Harper is inching our national government into similar fiscal addictions, masked for a brief time by recession-driven stimulus spending.

These conservative fiscal ponzi schemes are unsustainable. Services that people want and need must be paid for.
Premier Wall has an oddly indulgent fan base among conservatives in both the federal Conservative and Liberal parties. He throws fundraisers for them in Toronto, to help cover the bills for his political party in Saskatchewan. Next time he works the Bay Street circuit, he’ll be able to boast that he is as good at running Saskatchewan’s budget as they are at running their finance companies.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The idiocracy is eating itself

Pat Fiacco slams Brad Wall in front of the Regina Chamber of Commerce. Pass the popcorn.

On non-communication

John Geddes' response to Gen. Walter Natynczyk's bombshell admission of torture inflicted on Canadian detainees in Afghanistan focues on the apparent lack of communication between Natynczyk and Peter MacKay. But there's a more glaring example of non-communication in the Globe and Mail's version of the story:
Gen. Natynczyk’s version on Tuesday contradicted the sworn affidavit, filed in Federal Court to counter the efforts of human-rights groups efforts to get transfers halted.

Then-Colonel Steve Noonan had been selected by the military to provide the sworn affidavit in the government’s defence in the case. His April, 2007, affidavit has never been corrected or withdrawn.

“There was one incident in which the CF took custody of detainee who had been turned over to the local ANP by the CF In this case, the CF “learned that the detainee had been beaten by the local ANP,” Col. Noonan said in his affidavit. He has since been promoted to Brigadier-General.
In other words, the Harper Cons' recent attempts to deny the existence of any evidence that a Canadian detainee had been tortured came two and a half years after sworn evidence to the contrary was presented on behalf of the government itself. And it's hard to see how that kind of gap between what the Cons have been spouting in the House of Commons and what was presented as the evidence on the government's own behalf could come about without a complete breakdown in communication between the Cons and the Justice and Defence departments which they're supposed to be overseeing.

On testing grounds

Alice has an interesting post up about the NDP's HST advertising strategy. But while the current list of riding targets certainly can be seen as "target practice" in some sense, I'd think there's at least one more calculation involved in the NDP's decision as to how to distribute its advertising.

Here's how Alice sees the choice of ridings where the NDP's ads are running:
Once it was decided to target Conservative seats, the choice of ridings could be reasonably guessed by looking at the list of the NDP's best Conservative-won seats in 2008, by vote-share, for both Ontario and British Columbia. The party has held all but 3 of the 10 at some point in the last 20 years federally. And Leader Jack Layton personally attended the nomination meetings of 5 of the 8 currently nominated candidates, according to my notes, and many of these communities were also visited during the party's spring task forces on the recession and recovery, so they've evidently had the seats in mind for some time.

Where the 2008 margins were large in BC, they often represented Liberal voters who stayed home or switched to the Conservatives (as suggested in an earlier analysis of BC voting patterns), and short of those Liberals returning home, the NDP needed a new strategy to shrink the Conservative vote in those ridings.

In Ontario, they've picked their only unheld seat in the northwest, and four seats in southwestern Ontario who've been hit by the decline in the manufacturing sector, and where the party had reasonably strong local campaigns in 2008 and has strong local candidates in place. While the party's vote dropped somewhat across southwestern Ontario in the last election, I did notice a lot of movement back and forth between the NDP and Conservatives in the southwest during the daily tracking polls of a number of pollsters over the course of the campaign.

So, by an incrementalist narrow-margin approach to targetting seats, not all these would be next on their list. But one thing long-time stalwarts of all parties learned in 1993 is that hot-buttons and a desire for change can make large margins melt away. We may not be there yet, but political veterans also know not to wait for opportunities to appear, they work to create them and to be ready to maximize their advantage.
Now, it seems safe to say that the ridings selected for the NDP's ads reflect somewhat of a hybrid approach. As Alice notes, they probably don't represent the absolute best choice of targets solely from the standpoint of being the NDP's most likely pickup opportunities in Ontario and B.C.; instead, they seem to have been chosen as the ones most likely to flip from Con to NDP in an effort to expand the playing field.

But it's worth noting what may be behind the limited scope of the ad buys in the first place. If the NDP's plan was to use the current ad campaign to build the kind of widespread public discussion and desire for change required to support a massive shift in party loyalties, it wouldn't make much sense to limit the scope of the ads to ten ridings. At the very least, the ads would blanket all of the ridings fitting the pattern of Con-held seats where voters might be frustrated by the HST - and arguably a province-wide push would be appropriate at the outset.

Instead, the current ad campaign looks to be more of a test run to see what results the NDP can generate in the most fertile areas - while leaving the rest of the province as a control group for comparison. If the ads themselves don't shift public preferences in the target ridings compared to the rest of Ontario and B.C., then the conclusion will presumably be that the ads aren't worth a wider investment - which will presumably mean looking for other ways to reach voters with the HST message.

On the other hand, if the NDP does see a substantial shift in its target seats which can be traced back to the ad campaign (along with an enthusiastic enough public response to help fund more widespread distribution), then I'd fully expect to see the campaign expanded. And that's the point where the strategy might shift from the familiar narrow targeting we're accustomed to, toward a realistic opportunity to generate an orange wave across two of Canada's three most populous provinces.

The reviews are in

The Star-Phoenix editorial board:
While it is always wise for a government to examine carefully every penny of the public's money it spends, Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer's conversion to fiscal conservatism is coming late.

And it has all the appearances of desperation instead of prudence.

It is increasingly looking like the Saskatchewan Party entered the public treasury with all the finesse and forethought of Ali Baba's brother Kassim when it took office just more than two years ago. The excitement of so much wealth seems to have addled its decision-making, and now the prospect of having the taps turned off seems to be a daunting challenge.

As was pointed out when Mr. Gantefoer presented his budget in March, it is always dangerous for a government to spend one-time money -- particularly from such fluctuating sources as resource revenue -- as if it would continue to flow indefinitely.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Often imitated, never duplicated

A quick note to those accusing the Libs of stealing the NDP's plan on pensions: people, don't sell the NDP's plan short like that. Yes, both plans deal with pensions and include some form of relief for workers whose employers go under - but otherwise, the Libs' plan is at best a pale imitation of what the NDP has suggested.

Here's the Libs' proposal for the CPP - i.e. the lone part of their plan that's even accessible to Canadians in general:
“Not enough Canadians are saving for retirement – which is why we need a hassle-free, safe and reliable way to save more,” said Mr. McCallum. “The Harper government should work with the provinces, pensioners, labour groups and the private sector to develop and implement an SCPP, which would allow Canadians to voluntarily invest extra funds in our trusted national pension.”

Supported by several provinces and pension experts, a national SCPP is one possible solution to the problem of low retirement savings. By providing an easy way for Canadians to put their extra savings towards future retirement income, an SCPP should be considered as part of reforms to the income security system that include Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement.
In other words, the Libs' plan for the Canada Pension Plan isn't to turn it into anything approaching a vehicle to provide a secure retirement for Canadians generally. Indeed, it's of absolutely no use to anybody who doesn't have both (a) enough "extra funds" to make voluntary contributions, and (b) little enough idea what to do with their money that they're not investing it in some form already.

Needless to say, that figures to be an awfully limited segment of the population. And aside from unstated "reforms" which aren't even outlined in broad terms let alone costed, the Libs don't have any intention of improving retirement outcomes for anybody else.

In contrast, here's the NDP's plan for universal pension coverage:
First, let’s eliminate seniors poverty—right now.

The mechanism is ready to go. We can put a price tag on it.

Statistics Canada figures the “poverty gap” among seniors at less than $700-million.

We propose increasing the Guaranteed Income Supplement to close the gap.

This is a $700-million solution to ensure dignity for the seniors who built this country.

Our policies need to reflect that priority.

Second, let’s strengthen the Canada Pension Plan/Quebec Pension Plan.

Fully 93% of Canadians are already members. No other option provides so many advantages at so little cost.

Specifically, we propose phasing in a doubling of CPP/QPP benefits, in consultation with the provinces.

This would increase the top monthly benefit from $908 to $1817, helping to secure a liveable retirement for Canadians.

Doubling benefits will require an additional payroll deduction near 2.5%. That’s less than the administration fees alone on many RRSPs.
In other words, the difference is between a Liberal proposal which solves a nonexistent problem while ignoring the real issue of retiree poverty, and an NDP plan which actually ensures that every Canadian will be taken care of in their retirement. Which means that while it's worth pointing out that the Libs have indeed followed the NDP in recognizing pensions as an issue, their plan doesn't reflect so much a theft of the NDP's ideas as an attempt at counterfeiting using crayons and finger paint.

Update: In case there was any doubt, this gets a pass based on the sheer genius involved.

A choice of sides

One of the more comical arguments in favour of the HST has been that since some right-wing elements also oppose it, progressives should get in line behind it regardless of its practical effect on citizens. And there's no doubt that the campaign against the HST has featured both an unusual mix of voices on each side, and some bizarre antics from the right. But in case there was ever any doubt, the last week has offered a clear indication that while the two may be directed toward the same ultimate goal, the reasonable and principled progressive case against transferring the tax burden from corporations onto individuals is entirely different from the right-wing histrionics on the issue.

One the one hand, the NDP has been leading a consistent effort in both B.C. and Ontario to highlight the impact of the HST on citizens. In Ontario, Andrea Horwath's combination of examples of individuals who would be harmed by the tax and effective procedural moves to ensure some public hearings on the issue has won the NDP major plaudits from political observers. In B.C., Carole James has provided effective opposition to the HST inside and outside the legislature. And the federal NDP has joined with its provincial cousins in the effort to present a reasoned case against harmonization.

In contrast, the bizarre stunts surrounding the HST have originated entirely from the right side of the spectrum. In Ontario, Tim Hudak's PCs launched multiple temper tantrums in an effort to make lots of noise on the issue - but it was the NDP which worked out a means of providing the hearings demanded by the Cons.

And the face of B.C.'s right-wing resistance is currently carrying out an inexplicable attack on the Governor General which seems primarily designed to raise money rather than to accomplish anything useful for the cause. (Even if the issue surrounding the HST were one of constitutionality rather than the merits of the policy, surely Bill Vander Zalm has been around long enough to know that it's the courts rather than the GG who would make that decision.)

Now, the above isn't to say that progressives fighting the HST should entirely avoid working with their counterparts on the right. After all, any hope of changing the minds of the governments involved inevitably requires as much public support as the NDP can muster.

But there shouldn't be any doubt that it's possible to fight the HST on an entirely reasonable basis rather than as a matter of opposing for the sake of opposing. And those who hold that position will find their natural home in the NDP.

So much to learn

Sure, we anonymous wannabe opinion makers may have been the ones who publicly reported the recent committee meetings where Bill Boyd and Rod Gantefoer demonstrated that they lack the slightest clue about issues for which they're directly responsible as Sask Party cabinet ministers.

That said, though, CanWest's superior news-gathering resources and insider access still count for something. And it apparently took James Wood to report that Boyd also whispered the word "bastards" under his breath at the same meeting which he singlehandedly turned into a farce with his lack of knowledge about the subject involved. So clearly we bloggers have a long way to go in matching the corporate media's ability to cover what's really important.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Multiple choice

Based on this painful excuse for a blog post, is Leader-Post Deputy Editor Online Kevin Blevins:
(a) angling for a patronage appointment with the Harper Cons?
(b) angling for corporate largesse from Bruce Power?
(c) actually a bot programmed to spew two-decade-old Reform talking points in conjunction with random news stories?
(d) or, engaged in a performance-art impersonation of one or more of the above?

On track records

Shorter Mia Rabson:

Shame on the NDP for actually exposing how little value Canadians get from the cost of the Senate. Why, how would they like it if anybody thought to track their own MPs' performance?

(Edit: fixed wording.)

On destructive engagement

Impolitical is rightly skeptical about the Cons' attempt to pretend they're not the leading obstacle to a global climate agreement at Copenhagen. But let's remember that it's hardly new for the Cons to pretend to care about reaching an agreement while doing everything in their power to sabotage any effort to develop one.

Here's what the Cons said publicly all the way back in 2007:
Environment Minister John Baird says Canada will head to a UN climate change conference in Bali with a "solid" plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions and will push for a "constructive" agreement with other countries to encourage global reductions.
Shortly before leaving for Bali, Baird told CBC News on Sunday that "we'll be arriving at this conference with a solid … plan to cut emissions here in Canada by 20 per cent by 2020 … and we want to work to get a constructive agreement, and such an agreement has to have countries, like the United States, China and India — all the big emitters — in order to be successful in this battle against climate change."
Yet here's what the Cons were found to be doing in the time since they shed crocodile tears over the lack of results in Bali:
The Harper government recognized last year that its plan to tackle greenhouse gas emissions was extremely weak compared to other developed countries. As such, government documents show it devised a strategy that included trying to split European Union members and tying assistance to developing countries to binding emission reduction targets as part of a bid to influence international talks.
The Harper government's approach to international climate change negotiations has long revolved around two important positions.

The first is that any new framework and commitments post-2012 must include major emitters, especially emerging economies like India, China and Brazil. The government states that any agreement will be ineffective without major emitters, while there are concerns over the competitive advantage emerging economies will have if they don't need to reduce emissions.

Secondly, the EU and other developed countries have agreed to reduce emissions by 25-40 per cent from 1990 levels. In contrast, Canada has made much lower commitments, which the documents admit will have ramifications going forward.

"Canada's negotiating challenge is compounded by the fact that our domestic goal for 2020 is a reduction of 20 per cent from 2006 levels (this is equivalent to roughly two per cent below the 1990 levels)," read several documents.

They also include talking points for Canadian officials warning their counterparts not to expect too much in negotiations for a post-Kyoto framework by the end of 2009.
Those were not the only messages prepared for Canadian officials and intended for officials from specific European countries. In fact, a great deal of the briefing notes dealt with trying to identify allies within the European Union who would press the bloc to require developing countries like India, Brazil and China commit to greenhouse gas emission targets along with developed countries.
Needless to say, nothing the Cons have done since then suggests that they've shifted from their long-held position of pairing a public facade of caring about climate change with desperate behind-the-scenes efforts to block any agreement. And if the Cons and their allies once again manage to put roadblocks in front of the global effort to reach a deal, then Harper should be at the top of the list when it comes time to dole out the blame.

On blackouts

With the Globe and Mail's latest report offering some important answers as to what it is that the Cons have been covering up when it comes to torture in Afghanistan, the focus figures to shift away from this weekend's discussion of the Cons' information suppression processes. But it's worth following up based on the spin the Cons have continued to offer up:
The Chronicle Herald sought clarification, first from the Defence Department, who handed the file to Justice late Saturday. Justice officials on Saturday provided an email describing, in general terms, the redaction process.

Justice said that the markers are held by "officials from the Department of Justice National Security Group," who consult with officials in the affected departments before deciding what to black out, guided by principles established by federal court rulings.

The Herald posed a followup question, asking whether the officials consulted in the redaction of the Colvin memos included political staffers.

On Sunday morning officials provided clarification.

"The consultations have not included ministerial staffers as these discussions take place between subject-matter experts at the working level," said an email from the Justice Department’s Carole Saindon.
Which means that the Cons have effectively admitted to exactly the kind of concern I'd raised in my earlier posts on the subject. In effect, the Cons have completely ignored the system of responsibility actually set out by law, instead setting up a catch-22 for anybody seeking to hold the Cons accountable for their suppression of important information.

If anybody asks the departments and their ministers who hold legal responsibility to decide about disclosure, they're saying the decision was actually made by Justice. And if anybody starts taking Justice to task for blacking out full documents, it'll surely take roughly two seconds for them to respond that their proposed redactions weren't final, and that it's ultimately a departmental responsibility to decide what will and won't be released.

Now, one's immediate reaction might be that there oughta be a law against that type of manipulation. But as I've noted before, there is: the precise purpose of establishing ministerial responsibility under the Access to Information Act is to prevent governments from carrying out the shell game that the Cons are now playing.

Once again, though, the supposed party of law and order couldn't care less how blatantly it flouts the law when there's a political calculation to be made. And if there's anything the Cons have learned to do even more efficiently than throw themselves in front of a camera to claim credit for anything popular (whether or not they had any role in it), it's to kick up dust around any damaging issue to obscure what's actually going on (whether or not they're obviously responsible). Which apparently counts as progress in the eyes of some pundits.

Meanwhile, there are other stories emerging about similarly questionable withholding of information from Parliament - with some vague allusions to "public interest" being spouted as justification for preventing Canada's MPs from holding the government to account. I'm not particularly familiar with the legal underpinnings of that process, but based on the Cons' behaviour when it comes to the public's right to know it seems highly doubtful that they have any remotely plausible position there either.

Fortunately, in this particular case enough information has found its way into the public eye that the Cons don't seem to have any chance of avoiding reality. But the lengths they've gone to - and the lies they've told - in order to cover up their actions on the torture file should leave zero room for doubt that the Cons are downright proud of sweeping wrongdoing under the rug. And it'll all too likely take a change in government for us to find out just what exactly has been hidden from sight.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The full court press

I've mentioned before my concern that the Libs' decision to back the Harper government on the HST might result in a free pass for the Cons. But between the website and radio ad unveiled last week and Jack Layton's media blitz today, there's reason for optimism that the issue will be kept alive at the federal level.

Now that the NDP is running with the issue, it's worth pointing out the apparent reasons why it is that the NDP's strongest push against the HST has started only after the Libs decided to take a stand with the Cons against the citizens of B.C. and Ontario. And the timing makes sense on two fronts.

Obviously, the first point is one related to relative political advantage. Before the Libs took their position on the issue, any NDP efforts might only have served to reinforce a Lib decision to oppose the HST. So it helps matters that the NDP can now be fairly well assured that it'll be the beneficiary to the extent any public outrage sticks to the Cons.

But the flip side is that to the extent the HST can serve as an issue which can turn popular opinion against the Cons, the NDP now knows that it'll be the lone party making that happen: either the NDP has to use the tools at its disposal to make the issue to stick to Stephen Harper, or the Cons will skate by completely unscathed for initiating an unpopular policy. Which makes the issue as much a responsibility as it is an opportunity for the NDP - and means that the party should be able to test its ability to sway the public on an issue which could hardly have been designed any better for its purposes.

The reviews are in

Murray Mandryk:
Premier Brad Wall's frightening problem right now is that he truly does think he can get out of the dark deficit hole he's dug by digging even deeper.

That won't work even if he does strike potash. You can't sell it in today's market, anyway.

Wall's conviction that the billion-dollar deficit his Saskatchewan Party government unveiled last month will magically turn around when resource revenues recover is an economic and political disaster in the making. It's accomplishing what the NDP has failed to do for five years now -- give credence to the notion that Brad Wall is Grant Devine, reincarnated.

That's because Wall truly appears to be suffering from Devine's affliction -- the need for just one more hit of resource revenue to give the government one more spending high.

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

It took only a few days after the end of the Grey Cup for talk and action surrounding the Saskatchewan Roughriders to turn toward the team's plan for 2010. So let's take a look at the 'Riders' free agents as to who should be back, and who we can expect to see playing (or not playing) elsewhere.

I'll note that the outset that the classifications below aren't based solely on the quality of the players involved. Instead, the CFL's strict salary cap and the ready availability of import replacement players at many positions mean that the question of whether a player should be brought back is based on age/potential, import/non-import status and presumed salary expectations as well as current ability.


RB Stu Foord - Young. Talented. Popular. Local. And not well-enough established to demand starter money - though the 'Riders might want to consider paying him something close to it in order to secure a long-term bargain from a player who seems ready to step into at least a co-starring role at a skill position.

DE Stevie Baggs - He'll presumably want star money after a season where he could easily have been the league's Defensive Player of the Year. But he's both highly talented on his own and a perfect fit for Gary Etcheverry's defence, so I'd expect the 'Riders to be willing to find room in the budget.

CB Omarr Morgan - Based on how rejuvenated he looked in 2009, Morgan should be able to lock down a corner for the 'Riders for several more seasons as long as the price is right - and since he took a hometown discount to return in 2008, that shouldn't be a problem.

Worth Bringing Back

S James Patrick - Experienced and skilled enough to be a leader in the 'Riders' secondary, but young enough to stick around for many years to come.

FB Chris Szarka - He'd actually have been a prime candidate to go elsewhere if not for his successful run for City Council. But it's hard to see him leaving Regina now, and that should ensure that his price stays low enough for the 'Riders to bring him back.

RB Wes Cates - The flip side of Foord being a must-sign is that the 'Riders have a tough call to make with Cates. As long as he doesn't mind being a 1A back (and paid accordingly) rather than a feature runner, he'd be more than worth re-signing for his blocking and pass-catching ability. But the 'Riders' can't afford another season getting less than 5 yards per rush out of their feature tailback, and they may need to let Cates walk if he still expects to play that role.

QB Steven Jyles - A reasonably talented and experienced #2 if Saskatchewan can't find anyone better in the offseason. But with the Lions figuring to cut at least one former starter loose (Jarious Jackson? Buck Pierce?) and the Argos having to decide whether they want to pay Kerry Joseph MOP money to back up Cody Pickett, I'd take some time to see who else might be available before locking in Jyles.

DB Eddie Davis - When Davis was injured in 2007, the 'Riders' defence went into a funk until he returned. When he was injured in 2009, the 'Riders barely missed a beat with Chris McKenzie taking Davis' place. Which isn't to say that Davis wasn't still effective, but it may be time to transition a younger and cheaper starter into the defensive backfield.

WR Gerran Walker - Walker proved to be an effective #4 receiver in the latter half of the season. But I wouldn't be surprised if he's looking to be more of a feature receiver than he'll ever be in Saskatchewan - and the 'Riders shouldn't be heartbroken to let their next set of receiver recruits battle Johnny Quinn for Walker's spot in the lineup.

Probably Looking Elsewhere

LB Tad Kornegay - An effective utility defender who found his way onto the West All-Star team thanks to games missed by the likes of Maurice Lloyd, Rey Williams and Jojuan Armour, making for what figures to be a substantial gap between Kornegay's value on the field and his contract expectations in what's likely to be his only chance to get paid like a star. For a reasonable cost the 'Riders should be happy to have him back, but I'd expect him to get at least one big contract offer - and the 'Riders can get far better value finding somebody else to fill the spot rather than matching the price.

G Marc Parenteau - An effective starter last season and reserve before that. But with Belton Johnson, Bobby Harris and (most importantly) Wayne Smith returning from injuries and Joel Bell firmly entrenched at the right tackle spot, Parenteau's starting job figures to disappear in 2010. And with the re-signed Chris Best added back into a deep pool of non-import reserves, the 'Riders won't have much need to pay Parenteau a premium to stay as a backup.

RB Hugh Charles - Charles has shown glimmers of ability the past two seasons, and is worth bringing back to camp if he doesn't have greater opportunities elsewhere. But he's a clear #3 on the 'Riders' depth chart behind Cates and Foord, and based on the success of three rookie RBs in 2009 there doesn't seem to be any lack of imports ready to perform as feature runners in the CFL.

LS Jocelyn Frenette - For two seasons now, the 'Riders have kept both Frenette and Kevin Scott on their roster. And while Frenette has done well to improve his effectiveness on the 'Riders' cover teams, it's time to cut down on the number of roster spots used for long snappers.

(Edit: fixed typo.)