Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On appeals to conscience

The Libs have long since concluded that they can't afford to allow MPs to think for themselves, and are obviously doing their utmost to impose the same standard on the NDP. But it's funny what one can accomplish by actually working with one's MPs rather than simply eliminating their free will:
Speaking on Tuesday in a panel interview on Power & Politics with Evan Solomon, NDP Justice critic Joe Comartin said he was "hopeful" that enough of his colleagues from rural and northern ridings would vote against Hoeppner's bill if the NDP's proposed legislation failed to pass in time.

"At this point … we're very close to having enough of them say to C-391: 'This is not the way to go,' [to] say to the country, 'There's a way of reaching a compromise here that will be acceptable to the vast majority of Canadians'," Comartin said.

"So, I expect that, in fact, we, ultimately, are going to defeat C-391 — unless we can reach the compromise before we reach that stage."
What's more, at least one of the NDP's MPs who voted for C-391 at second reading has signalled his plans in legendary fashion. And all by thinking for himself rather than taking orders from on high.

Of course, we'll have to see whether Comartin proves to be right, as the national debate over the registry plays out within the only party that trusts its MPs to exercise competent judgment. But yes, that sound you hear is the Libs frantically changing their travel plans - lest what they thought would be a chance to score political points over a whipped vote turn all the more obviously into the Epic Fail Express.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

This and that for your afternoon...

- Douglas Bell slams the Libs for not caring about civil rights in the wake of the G20 police abuses:
In a letter to Vic Toews dated June 29th Mark Holland, the Liberal public safety critic, raises a series of concerns regarding G20 security – not one of which mentions violations of civil liberties.

To wit: “As Canadians now know, Prime Minister Harper made the decision to hold the G20 in downtown Toronto – a decision that led to exorbitant costs and a nearly impossible security situation for police.”

The largest mass arrest of Canadians in history and the Grits primary concern is that the cops were overwhelmed. It would be as if Martin Luther King in his letters from the Birmingham jail wrote to Police Chief “Bull” Connor complaining about the stress he was putting on his department’s German shepherds.
- Barbara Yaffe recognizes that the Cons have no choice but to try to change the channel from health care given their obvious failings in the area. But that only makes it all the more important to make sure the issue stays at the forefront of public discussion.

- Don't worry, Paul Wells: I'm sure Rights and Democracy will make its audit publicly available eventually. Just as soon as the Cons get around to regulating greenhouse gas emissions first.

- Finally, Leftdog points out that the annual Liberal lemming run is in full force. But the truly sad part is that the party genuinely seems to measure success by the number of followers who race off the cliff.

Two can play at that game

Apparently the Saskatchewan Party is trying to avoid responsibility for making off with the PC Trust Fund by arguing that it doesn't have standing to sue or be sued. Just what you'd expect from a terrorist-loving criminal organization.

On values debates

While I'm not entirely in agreement with his suggested examples, I'd think Murray Dobbin is generally on target in noting the need for the NDP to lead the way in opposing the Harper Cons on more than just tactical terms:
More than one commentator has asked in exasperation: who will rid the country of this odious pretender to the office of prime minister? The answer could be the NDP -- if it is up to task. Can it rise above the game playing, and the infantile tactical wars in Ottawa and actually respond to the people of the country who are seeking genuine leadership? So far the answer has been a disappointing no.

The NDP is, given the current political landscape, the only party capable of responding effectively to the stated values of most Canadians outside Quebec. The Greens, until there is proportional representation, are simply not in the game. History is made by those who show up.

I am talking about real leadership here and I don't mean on things like childcare, affordable housing and enhancing Medicare. These are absolutely critical issues and the NDP can be expected to continue to push for them. But this is not bold leadership -- almost everyone thinks we should have childcare and is appalled at our poverty levels -- and Canadians have a love affair with Medicare. This is no-risk leadership -- it doesn't lead at all, it just follows a safe path defined by polls and focus groups.

Leadership is being out in front, challenging people to examine their values and act accordingly; it's taking a chance.
And while Dobbin lets it go without saying, we can't expect any such leadership from the Libs anytime soon. While their summer bus tour may have helped to sell Michael Ignatieff as head of a coalition of the pursuing-power-for-its-own-sake, there's still no indication that they see any need for a clash in values against the Cons when they can instead seek to head up a government which will do little differently.

That means that there's less of an opening for the NDP to emerge as Harper's chief competitor by simply trying to take up space by default, but a better opportunity to actually serve as the face of a genuine contrast in values. And while it's off to a start on that front, there's a good ways yet to go.

Under the knife

The Wall government's health-care privatization plans are proceeding as expected. So let's take a moment to refer back to some of the problems with privatization which have at best been answered with vague and implausible assurances - and ask why the Sask Party doesn't seem to have even considered whether the same surgeries they're so eager to farm out to the private sector could have been carried out within the public system.

(H/t to LRT.)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Just so we're clear...

The main area of difference between the NDP's leadership and the Libs' on the gun registry is that Jack Layton actually wants to fix it now, while Michael Ignatieff wants to hold off on doing anything until some indeterminate point in the future. Which is apparently an important enough principle that Ignatieff will stubbornly stand in the way of any attempt to work out an agreement toward the policy he claims to support in the meantime.

No doubt there's a "failure of leadership" in one of these parties. But I'm not sure Ignatieff should be wanting to throw around the phrase lest anybody consider which one it is.

(Edit: fixed wording.)


Who could have guessed that both beneficiaries of an unfair and antiquated electoral system would shoot down any talk of changing it?

On missed opportunities

I'll have more to say later about the broad themes of Jack Layton's speech on economic vision, setting out both an expended view of "infrastructure" and a firm statement that public and social infrastructure should be able to meet public interests. But for now, let's stick to a reminder about the opportunity that the Cons have so eagerly blown in favour of pork-barrel political giveaways:
For me, the deepest lack in Ottawa’s stimulus program has been its failure to invest in tomorrow’s economy. This was our best chance yet to start positioning Canada as a renewable energy and conservation leader. Instead, we’ve lost more ground to our competitors and trading partners.

Less than 9 per cent of Canada’s stimulus was green stimulus. Obama’s US did nearly twice as well. Countries like France, Norway, Australia did three and four times as well.

Ottawa’s stimulus framework left tremendous innovation potential untapped — at the municipal level, among entrepreneurs. With leadership, with vision, we can do so much more to build the foundations for the new economy.

Citation desperately needed

I'm not sure if there's some explanation for Harris MacLeod's attempt to put words in the mouth of the NDP which seems to contradict the historical record. But absent some clarification, it's hard to take much else seriously about his article on the gun registry.

So in the face of the party's history of free votes on government and private members' bills alike, can MacLeod or anybody else say where exactly they're getting the information that "(the) NDP's policy on the gun registry is to keep it, but the party's policy on private member's bills trumps this policy"? (And no, candidate statements from past leadership races don't count.)

Monday Morning Links

An assortment of reading material to start your week...

- Gerald Caplan offers up a suggested Middle East reading list for Cons willing to learn about the true state of the world. Which should come in handy just as soon as they return from the unicorn riding academy.

- Ralph Surette nicely pegs what the Harper Cons mean for Canada:
One thing the vast majority of us are distinctly not waiting for is for the Harper government to actually improve anything, especially not to advance the cause of a properly functioning democracy. On the contrary, the drift is ominous: towards a tyrannical control from the Prime Minister’s Office aimed at dismantling large parts of the Canadian state, punishing anyone who questions its aims, manipulating information, and turning the society into an alloy of right-wing religion and big money.

The truly ill-omened part is that Stephen Harper can do this while in a minority. That is, even if the Conservatives do shoot themselves in the head — and they came close by destroying the census long form as a useful public instrument — they’ll keep governing in zombie form if the opposition remains as fractured as it is.
- Erin offers to sell out to BHP Billiton.

- The CP reports on what would need to be done for B.C. to walk away from the HST. But as ominous as the consequences are made to sound by corporate mouthpieces, they really amount to giving back the bribe offered up by the Harper Cons - meaning that other than having wasted time and effort trying to impose the tax, the province wouldn't be any worse off if it's repealed than if it had never been introduced.

- Finally, the Cons are breaking new ground in claiming that minority governments are entitled to hide all political operations from any opposition or public scrutiny. But once again, the "ministerial responsibility" excuse looks all the more ridiculous when the Cons' side is presented by their Pit Bull In Chief rather than, say, the minister who could possibly be responsible for the information suppression at issue.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

On resource management

With at least some of the talk about PCS takeovers raising the possibility that other bidders from China or elsewhere may outbid BHP Billiton, let's take a moment to point out what both takes which have received corporate media placement seem to get wrong.

On the one hand, there's absolutely no reason to accept Derek DeCloet's assumption that China's "form of capitalism" has any bearing on what the provincial and federal governments should be prepared to approve. For all the efforts by the federal Cons and others to pretend that all private investment is positive while all state-owned investment is suspicious, the reality is that substantially the same factors raising concerns about a Chinese bid would be readily apparent no matter which of the rumoured bidders enters the game.

Which is to say that I agree with the Star-Phoenix' take that all bidders should effectively be treated equally. But that doesn't mean simply rubber-stamping any bid and hoping for the best when it comes to the province's ability to manage its own resources, as its column seems to suggest.

Instead, any new owner needs to be subject to a careful assessment to ensure that it won't harm Saskatchewan's ability to set royalty terms - in the long term as well as the short term - that fit the priorities of Saskatchewan's citizens as the owners of the province's potash. And to the extent there's a significant risk of any bidder grinding down royalty rates and depriving the province of the value of its resources, the end result should be a finding that a takeover isn't in the province's interest.

The hope factor

I've previously discussed how the Cons' constant coalition talk may only serve to legitimize any coalition following the next federal election campaign. But it's worth noting as well what impact the talk should have on the campaign itself, even if the Libs thus far seem determined not to let it happen.

By way of comparison, it's worth remembering the mood of the opposition parties and their supporters around the time of the 2008 election campaign.

With Stephane Dion rejecting the possibility of a coalition even as his poll numbers tanked, with the Libs pulling back their national spending while putting in just enough effort to try to stave off the NDP, with Gilles Duceppe publicly stating that nobody but Stephen Harper could be prime minister after the election, the overall mood was broadly one of frustration and resignation. At best, the questions to be decided on election day seemed to involve whether the Cons would win a minority or a majority, and how the opposition parties would be positioned as against each other.

Needless to say, that range of outcomes didn't generate any great amount of hope that even the best election-day effort would produce much worth celebrating on the part of the opposition parties - while the Cons were energized by the prospect of pushing ahead to majority government status. And that combination of a resigned opposition and a galvanized Con majority push figures to have made the end results worse than they had to be.

Now, there's little reason to think that the next campaign will be any different if the opposition parties don't do more to positively portray the possibility of a coalition. Even with the Libs slightly above their historic lows of earlier this year, the normal campaign swing toward the Cons would leave little prospect that any one opposition party will be able to win a plurality of seats. So if that or worse is the standard for a change in government, then the Cons figure to once again enjoy an enthusiasm gap in their favour.

But what if the opposition parties run with the idea that a change in government is possible - or even inevitable - if the Cons fall short of majority status, with the election results then serving to define the relative power within a Lib/NDP coalition (supported by the Bloc only if need be)?

At that point, all opposition parties would have added reason to fight for every seat they can, with a particular focus on flipping Con seats into other parties' columns. There would be every reason to hope that a plausible election outcome could produce an end to the Harper regime, meaning that the campaign for each party could be based at least as much on the realistic prospect of a better government to follow as on frustration with the current one.

And it's not as if taking the step would substantially influence the Cons' enthusiasm level. The Cons have telegraphed that they'll be motivating their base by pitching the need for a majority to stop a coalition - so the only real question is whether the opposition will match that sense of urgency.

Of course, that's where the catch lies so far. The Libs' strategy of pretending that they alone are the opposition coalition might slightly increase the prospect of that actually becoming true. But it also provides ample reason for NDP, Bloc and Green supporters to be suspicious that the Libs will happily keep propping up a Harper minority as long as they have to in order to form the next government on their own. And the resulting need for the opposition parties to spend more time attacking each other only figures to add to the enthusiasm gap in giving the Cons their best possible shot at a majority.

In sum, then, it's ultimately Michael Ignatieff's call as to whether he wants to lead a cooperative effort to form an alternative governemnt, or whether he's willing to torpedo that effort based on a desire to stoke the Libs' belief that they're above their competitors. And internal pressure from the Libs will surely be a major factor in determining whether there's much to hope for next time Canada goes to the polls.

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Last night's loss to Edmonton serves to have answered one interesting question: namely, whether the CFL is enough like the low-scoring NFL of the '70s for a team to nurse a two-touchdown lead while its offence takes the rest of the game off. ("No", it would appear.)

Unfortunately, it's not quite clear who wanted to see the question answered in the first place. And the result for the 'Riders was a loss in a game that should have been put out of reach early.

To start off with, let's give full credit to the 'Riders for doing as much as can possibly be done to control a team that's normally explosive both on offence and on special teams.

Yes, Ricky Ray put together a couple of late drives. But normally the mark of a great defensive performance against him is to make sure he can't turn inevitable passing yardage into more than three points at a time, meaning that the worst point in the game for the 'Riders' D was still a success by normal standards. And the defence was even more impressive earlier on, holding one of the CFL's most accurate and efficient quarterbacks to a woeful 2 for 6 for 16 yards and an interception in the first quarter, then taking full advantage of a rookie quarterback toward the middle of the game.

Meanwhile, the cover teams were no less impressive in stifling the normally-explosive Kelly Campbell (as well as Jamaica Rector when Campbell was hurt for a time). So the 'Riders couldn't have done much more to shut down everything Edmonton normally does to put points on the board.

But then there's the offence. On paper, its yardage numbers would be classified as mediocre rather than disastrous. But that falls far short of telling the whole story, as a unit which looked like it was ready to steamroll the CFL early this season suddenly turned completely ineffective when it counted.

And indeed, the 'Riders were at their worst when it mattered most. The story for the first quarter was the team's one touchdown drive; in the second quarter, it was churning up some yardage, but repeatedly falling just short of field-goal range. But in the second half, thanks to a painful combination of weak blocking on running plays and uncoordinated pass attempts, the 'Riders managed only two first downs. And even those required short-yardage plays to move the chains, as the team's only play over 9 yards was a failed attempt to convert on 2nd and 25.

What's truly sad, though, is that even that lack of production need not have been fatal, as the 'Riders might well have been able to hang on if their offence had merely taken care of the ball while doing nothing positive. Unfortunately, the 'Riders' turnover total for the last 32 minutes of the game exceeded their number of first downs, with the last of Darien Durant's interceptions giving Edmonton just enough of a boost to get back into the game. And when the Eskimos did manage to put up enough points to tie the game then take the lead, the 'Riders didn't even show a trace of ability to bounce back, gaining a total of one yard on five plays.

The company line coming out of the game seems to be that the problem was one of execution, which would seem to be an obvious enough issue in the wake of such a dismal performance. But between Durant's running ability and Cates' receiving skills, the 'Riders normally have enough safety valves in their offence to at least move the ball somewhat even when their traditional offence isn't functioning as it should. And the fact that the offence couldn't fire on a single cylinder yesterday cost the 'Riders a game they should have been able to win in a walk.

What's worse, the game may have far more significance for the rest of the season than one would think from the standings going in. Don't look now, but the gap between the 'Riders and the Eskimos for second place is only one game more than the one separating Saskatchewan from first place. And while Edmonton obviously has plenty left to work on, it seems to have enough talent to get its season turned around - particularly since its win yesterday came with its two top offensive threats either absent or playing far below their best.

Needless to say, we'll have to hope for yesterday's game to serve as a wakeup call for the 'Riders. But it could instead turn out to be the end of the have/have-not dynamic that's dominated the West so far this season - especially if other teams can exploit the weaknesses Edmonton was able to find in the 'Riders' offence.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

On priority payments

The ultimate answer to the question of what NAFTA has cost Canada involves plenty of guesswork as to how the country would have involved politically and economically in its absence. But it's certainly worth recognizing the less disputable costs when we can - and the fact that a Harper government supposedly in cutback mode thinks it's just peachy to hand $130 million to a failed Canadian company based on a claim that hadn't yet been seriously pursued should serve as a huge red flag as to what NAFTA and its progeny mean for Canadian policymakers.

On valid questions

Antonia Zerbisias may not be so restrained in her own take on the issue. But let's point out that her example (drawn from Sault Ste. Marie police chief Bob Davies) as to the role the gun registry can play in cases of domestic abuse is exactly the kind of area where there may be some rational discussion to be had in contrast to the "'you want to lock up Uncle Joe on the farm'/'you want to kill women and children!'" quality of rhetoric that seems to be characterizing the issue these days:
Most often, the registry is used when domestic assaults go to court. If an accused appears likely to reoffend, police will request the Crown attorney ask for weapons to be surrendered while the person is on bail.

"They won't volunteer that information," said Davies.

"Without the registry we wouldn't know if they had firearms."
Now, I'm not inclined to simply take that without question. But rather than simply dismissing it out of hand as the Con side of the debate is looking to do, let's actually ask the questions that can determine whether the long gun registry will serve a particularly valuable purpose in cases of domestic assaults.

Does the long gun registry provide information beyond any licensing that takes place for gun owners and sales that allows the court to determine what weapons an accused might own in such situations?

And in the wake of the Con-imposed amnesty, is it reliable enough to serve a useful purpose beyond requiring self-reporting backed by appropriate searches at the time an accused is released on bail?

If the answer to both is demonstrably "yes" (keeping in mind that the mere fact that the long gun registry is currently used for those purposes isn't a full answer absent reason to think that alternatives aren't available), then that's the kind of use for the long gun registry which might well shift the debate. So let's start the discussion on both sides for this and other similar examples.

Not lost in translation

If nothing else, it's somewhat surprising that the Cons are running the same campaign in both official languages, even the one associated with the prospect of a coalition being particularly popular. But it's worth pointing out the obvious response in both as well, particularly since the French version seems to be rather more explicit about the expected results:
Des stratèges conservateurs ont indiqué à La Presse vendredi que Stephen Harper a la ferme intention de mettre les Canadiens en garde contre les dangers d'une coalition libérale/néo-démocrate qui serait appuyée par un parti souverainiste durant la prochaine campagne.

«Ce sera l'un des thèmes de notre prochaine campagne. Nous sommes convaincus que si nous ne pouvons pas avoir une majorité aux prochaines élections, les libéraux, les néo-démocrates et les bloquistes ne perdront pas de temps à créer un gouvernement de coalition pour nous empêcher de conserver le pouvoir même si notre parti remporte le plus de sièges», a affirmé vendredi un stratège conservateur sous le couvert de l'anonymat.
Et quand les Cons répètent d'ici jusqu'aux prochaines élections qu'ils seront remplacés comme gouvernement "même (s'ils remportent) le plus de sièges" si les autres partis peuvent renverser leur régime avec une coalition, ils ne pourront pas se plaindre quand c'est cela la résultat.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Musical interlude

Tiesto - Driving to Heaven (Mat Zo Remix)

By way of comparison

Shorter Murray Mandryk:

Brad Wall's decision to allocate medical research funding at a political level makes him a policy innovator like Tommy Douglas. And this stick-figure drawing makes me a Renaissance man like Leonardo Da Vinci.

The costs of privatization

While the latest story on potash involves the proposed takeover of one private company by another, Erin crunches the numbers as to what the Saskatchewan public has lost due to the privatization of the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan in the first place:
The greatest tragedy in BHP Billiton's $38.6-billion (U.S.) bid for the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan (PCS) is that the Government of Saskatchewan previously sold PCS for just $630 million. This privatization was the worst fiscal decision in the province's history and has been aggravated by subsequent royalty giveaways to private potash companies.
(T)he mines that PCS owned in 1989 still account for 80 per cent of its potash production and capacity. Since 70 per cent of the company's current gross margin is from potash (rather than phosphate and nitrogen), these mines still provide at least 55 per cent of overall profits today.

If PCS had simply held onto those historic assets, it would now be worth more than half of today's value. Even assuming that PCS would have completely stagnated as a Crown corporation after 1989, the fiscal cost of privatization was still more than five times the maximum fiscal benefit.

Depending upon which assumptions one accepts, the costs of privatization exceeded the benefits by between $18-billion and $36-billion. In other words, the Saskatchewan government gave up between $17,000 and $35,000 for every man, woman and child in the province.

More and Better New Democrats: Sandy Harding for Saint John East

Next month's provincial election in New Brunswick promises to be a watershed moment for that province's NDP. While the party has generally been able to get its leader elected (with a few exceptions including the 2006 election), it has yet to win a second seat in a general election. But that stands to change very soon: Eric at Three Hundred Eight is already projecting a second seat for the NDP, and that's using an extremely conservative popular vote projection that leaves the NDP with a lower share of the vote than it's taken in any of the province's polls since 2008.

What's more, the NDP's influence may go far beyond merely electing additional members, as a razor-thin margin between the Libs and Cons raises the possibility that the NDP could hold the balance of power by this time next month.

With that in mind, this month's More and Better New Democrats feature focuses on one of the candidates with a great chance to join leader Roger Duguay in the Legislature.

The Candidate

The New Brunswick NDP is understandably putting an emphasis on fiscal responsibility in a province which has given the business lobby everything it can think to ask for - and seen that result in massive deficits for the foreseeable future. But it's worth ensuring there are some MLAs pointing out why it matters for the government to get itself back on track.

And Sandy Harding stands out among the party's top candidates in that respect. In addition to extensive involvement in CUPE (both through her local and provincially), her resume features work on child care, pay equity and wage fairness. That in turn meshes nicely with her professional experience in the education sector, giving her ample knowledge as to how to work within public systems to get results. Which means that Harding should make for an ideal choice as the leading voice for the social issues that have far too often been neglected under Libs and Cons alike.

In addition, it only helps matters that in a province where women have been grossly underrepresented in the Legislature, Harding is sending a strong message that she intends to change that.

The Riding

But why target Saint John East? At first glance based on the party's 2006 results it wouldn't seem like an obvious choice, as Maureen Michaud's 7% of the vote wasn't much higher than the party's baseline level of support. But there are a few reasons to be particularly optimistic about the riding.

For one, Saint John East (in its form a couple of distributions ago) is actually the lone constituency that the New Brunswick NDP has won in the past with a non-leader candidate. That took place when Peter Trites won a 1984 by-election only to jump to the Libs in time for Frank McKenna's 1987 sweep. So the NDP has obviously been able to mobilize a winning effort in the area before.

Meanwhile, Saint John East is also adjacent to the riding occupied by what may be the NDP's highest-profile candidate aside from Duguay: Saint John Harbour's Wayne Dryer, who seems to be putting on a strong push himself to take back the seat held by former leader Elizabeth Weir. So rather than simply aiming for a lone beachhead in a community where the NDP lacks a strong presence, Harding should enjoy a highly favourable local climate.

The Opponents

What's more, the lack of an incumbent means that the riding is very much up for grabs. Longtime Lib MLA Roly MacIntyre stepped down from the seat in April, meaning that the competition to win the seat will come from two other rookie candidates in Lib Kevin McCarville and PC Glen Tait. And with Saint John East having been held by all three parties in the past 25 years, there's plenty of reason to think that vote splits could work out in Harding's favour.

The Plan

So what can you do to help? Harding looks to be running a fairly traditional campaign, focusing on lawn signs and volunteers to go with what looks to have been an effective fund-raising effort and Facebook organization. With that in mind, I'll recommend joining her Facebook page and looking for opportunities to help from there - while donating to the provincial party in the absence of a direct donation system.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Friday Morning Links

A bit of reading material to close out the week...

- Chantal Hebert rebuts her previous theory about the Libs' chances in Quebec better than I did, pointing out exactly why high expectations figure to be thing of the past:
Given that alone among the provinces Quebec actually runs a public pension system distinct from the Canada Pension Plan, the chosen theme for Thursday’s visit is an odd fit.

In fairness though, the issue of pension reform may well reflect the interests of a critical mass of Quebec federal Liberals. In this province, it is hard to determine which is aging faster: the federal Liberal membership or the ever-shrinking group of Catholic mass regulars.

Moreover, in light of their ongoing organizing challenges in Quebec, Liberal strategists are at least playing it safe by selecting an issue that comes with the potential of captive audiences.
At best, one might figure that the Libs can try to wring a few more seats out of one last appeal to an aging base. But Hebert seems to have recognized that time isn't on their side.

- The Citizen is rightly critical of the deterioration of Environment Canada data. But based on our census experience, a permanent loss of trust in government data seems to be seen by the Cons as a feature rather than a bug:
(Y)es, the need for information is made even more urgent by the fact of climate change. If extreme weather events are going to get more frequent, we need to understand how that's likely to affect Canadian communities.

The report also makes the point that Environment Canada shares its information with other levels of government, the private sector and the international scientific community. Inaccurate or spotty data will create mistrust in those relationships, and it could take Environment Canada a long time to recover from that.

There are smart ways to cut costs in the public service and there are stupid ways. If the cuts to the meteorological service are still affecting the quality of Canada's climate data as much as this report suggests, Environment Minister Jim Prentice should acknowledge the problem and start fixing it.
- And likewise John Ivison's characterization of the Harper Cons as an immature, "wannabe Top Gun" governing style, particularly based on Stephen Harper's own childish stunt yesterday:
raising the spectre of the Russian bear in the air must have seemed like a good idea, since it knocked the committee meeting off the news agenda.

But here’s why it was not. The Canadian government’s own strategy document says our only territorial disputes in the Far North are with Denmark over Hans Island and the United States over the maritime boundary in the Beaufort Sea.

A dispute with Russia may yet emerge if there are over-lapping claims along the Lomonosov Ridge, a mountain range beneath the Arctic Ocean, where a mini-submarine planted a Russian flag in 2007.

But co-operating with Russia may yield more benefits than confrontation. Where Canada claims the North-West Passage as an internal waterway, so Russia claims the North-East Passage — both of which are set to become navigable.
No one is suggesting that Canadian sovereignty in the North is not important — nor that the Canadian Forces should not respond to potential incursions (even if, as NDP critic Jack Harris pointed out, the Russians have not entered Canadian airspace in the last decade).

But it is fair to suggest that there should be a more mature, sophisticated approach taken by the Prime Minister’s Office. To speak in the style of a wannabe Top Gun is not grown-up government.
- I'll fully agree with Michael Ignatieff's concern about the Cons blowing upwards of a million dollars on a single photo op. But I'd think there's room to raise a broader issue about the use of Canada's military resources for PR purposes, as Paul Wells for one notes that this is hardly a first.

- Finally, James Wood notes that Scott Stelmaschuk has bowed out of the NDP's nomination race in Saskatoon Sutherland to back Ryan Meili - which still leaves three strong candidates in the running for one of the party's top pickup opportunities in 2011.

Compare and contrast

Your friendly neighbourhood Nobel-winning economist:
A couple of months back I asked, does fiscal austerity actually reassure markets? I noted there the curious case of Ireland, which embraced savage austerity early on; quite a few press reports declared that this had gained it the confidence of markets, but the actual numbers said otherwise. And I noted the contrast with Spain, which has been relatively slow and reluctant to embrace austerity, but has been treated no worse by investors.
(S)ince austerians were claiming bond market approval as a sign of its policy success, it is worth pointing out that dutiful Ireland looks as if it’s entering a runaway debt spiral, while malingering Spain is looking considerably better.
Your less-friendly neighbourhood Finance Minister:
According to a report in today’s Times of London, our finance minister, Jim Flaherty, has now waded into the dispute. Behind the paper’s pay-wall, Mr. Flaherty is reported to have “dismissed the downgrade, instead praising the Irish Government’s package of austerity measures.”
So apparently we too can look forward to a great deal of pain for its own sake - at least as long as our finance minister is taking a lead role in playing to imaginary confidence fairies rather than acknowledging that gratuitous government-slashing can have serious consequences.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

On defining moments

One could hardly ask for a better example of Stephen Harper's stay in power in a nutshell:
The rogue PM eventually returned to the aircraft where he was surrounded by reporters and photographers, one of whom wondered whether he had a licence to operate the vehicle — especially on restricted space such as an air strip?

“I think I make the rules,” the PM quipped.
And truly he does.

Think he makes the rules, that is. So when he figures it's convenient to break laws, promises or both, or to shut down democratic institutions or fire civil servants for the offence of failing to subordinate the truth to his political purposes, he's consistently acted as if nobody can possibly question his impulses.

And after over four years of carefully insulating himself from anybody who might dare question his infallibility, with an Official Opposition working feverishly to keep him in office until its next turn to exercise absolute power and a media who views his megalomania as the stuff of "quips" rather than an indication that something has gone horribly, horribly wrong, it's half understandable why Harper thinks himself a dictator entitled to make any inconvenient rules disappear on a whim.

But some of us might see reason to disagree that the rule of law has been officially preempted in favour of rule by Harper fiat. And we'll have all the more reason to be concerned about what's happening elsewhere in Harper's regime as a result of his firm belief that he can declare himself to be above the law.

On to Plan B

I'll admit to having overestimated the Cons' willingness to listen to reason - and as a result, we probably are at the point where it's worth looking at legislation to save the long form census rather than working solely on getting the federal cabinet to reverse its decision.

That said, I'll still point back to my earlier post to highlight the obstacles to getting a private member's bill passed - including the lengthy timelines to deal with legislation in the House of Commons, and the Cons' Senate majority which will be able to stop any bill in its tracks.

Hopefully those won't be insurmountable before the point next spring when it's actually too late to reverse the changes for the 2011 census. But in order to have any hope of cleaning up the Harper government's vandalism, the opposition parties will need to both stay focused on the issue, and use every available opportunity to pressure the Cons to allow the bill to move forward. And if anybody is under the illusion that merely introducing the bill will accomplish anything useful without loads of followup work, then we may as well resign ourselves to the joys of Vague Hunches Canada now.

Just one problem

It's definitely worth noting Stephen Fienberg's followup commentary on the census. But I'm not sure it'll necessarily have quite the effect anybody is hoping for. After all, isn't it all too likely that Harper's crew of know-nothings will take "mindless" as a compliment?

A friendly reminder...

...for those trying to pretend that whether the Cons frame gun registry legislation as a private members' bill or a government bill should make a lick of difference in how the NDP handles it.

The NDP's position on the gun registry has always been to allow free votes - including on the Libs' government bill that implemented it in the first place. So merely saying that C-391 is effectively a government bill doesn't change anything in how the NDP approaches the issue.

In turn, in keeping with that long-time party policy allowing for free MP choice, a number of the NDP's MPs have been elected based on explicit promises to vote down the registry. And while it's easy for the Libs to say that MPs from other parties should match their own willingness to break promises on orders from their leader, I'd much rather see the NDP hold itself to a higher standard of trust between MPs and constituents.

Now, none of the above should be taken as approving of the Cons' slimy tactics in seeking to get the bill passed. And it's worth noting that the Cons may well refuse to take "yes" for an answer - as I remain highly skeptical that they'll let C-391 pass in the Senate if it means losing one of their most productive cash cows for the next election.

But history and principle are both on the side of the NDP allowing its MPs to decide how to vote on an issue where both the Libs and the Cons have done their utmost to leave no good options. And if the Libs want to convince anybody to vote to keep the registry, they'll need to try to appeal to the NDP's MPs on the merits rather than demanding that Jack Layton eliminate their ability to think for themselves.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On intrusions

The Cons are receiving more international attention for their complete failures at home, this time in the form of another denunciation of their choice to gut the long-form census. But Nature's reporting raises another point which has (in retrospect surprisingly) escaped notice so far:
Industry Minister Tony Clement has defended the decision to shift to a voluntary long-form survey, saying it’s vital to protect privacy and assuring critics that Ottawa will still get plenty of responses. (The response rate to the mandatory census was in the 90 per cent plus range.)

But the Nature opinion piece authors warn that citizens are fatigued by requests for voluntary disclosure of information.

“In increasing numbers, people can’t be bothered to respond to information requests,” Profs. Prewitt and Fienberg say.

“Telemarketing has soured the environment for phone interviews and junk mail clutters e-mail inboxes. Who has time to distinguish legitimate surveys from the flood of look-alikes?”
Of course, Clement has also raised the theory that any other organizations wanting census-type data should commission separate polling for themselves. And leaving aside the fact that voluntary polling can't replicate the accuracy and reliability of census data, it's worth noting the seemingly inevitable end result of that invitation when it comes to the sheer volume of attempts to contact Canadians.

After all, if provinces, municipalities and private-sector actors decide to close as many of the gaps in federal data as they can through their own polling, the end result is that citizens will be bombarded with all the more calls and appeals from private firms - likely many times over the current amount of polling as information is collected solely by single parties rather than being made available for multiple groups' use like census data. And there's no reason to think consumers would be protected from a tidal wave of new calls, as the Cons have proven themselves to be entirely negligent in doing anything about abuse of the do-not-call list or any other private-sector intrusions into personal space and time.

In other words the tradeoff for the Cons' myopic focus on getting government out of the business of governing is...far more disruptive polling from private firms which they have no intention of regulating.

So next time your personal time is interrupted by an unwanted call from a pollster, think of Tony Clement - and remember that the Cons' idiocy figures to cause at least as many harmful effects for the general public as for the planners the Cons seem eager to attack.

Well said

Thomas Walkom rightly criticizes the actions of police in using the G20 as an excuse to make arrests that had absolutely no basis in law (resulting in this week's flood of dropped charges):
(W)hat seems increasingly clear is that in the wake of that Saturday mayhem, security authorities went over the top, expanding the very elastic provisions of the criminal code to arrest not only those who were protesting legally and peacefully but those who police thought might engage in such protests.

Hence the arrest of a uniformed TTC ticket-taker on his way to work. Hence the arrest of a 17-year-old for the crime of carrying eyewash in her backpack (police called it a “weapon of opportunity”).
In effect, what occurred at the G20 was a massive and quite possibly illegal array of pre-emptive arrests. People were picked up and charged not because they were doing anything wrong — not even because they were about to do anything wrong.

Rather they were arrested and charged because those in charge of the police found civil liberties inconvenient. Their thinking: If everyone who might conceivably cause trouble is put in jail, there can be no trouble.

It is the totalitarian’s recipe for public order. Very China. Very Zimbabwe. Not very Canada.

Wednesday Morning Links

The links just keep on coming...

- Paul Wells has expressed disbelief that John Geddes' report on the RCMP funding flawed anti-Insite research then suppressing its didn't result in more outcry. But the reason seems obvious to me - as while it might be slightly different to have such a crystal-clear example coming from an organization that we'd like to think of as independent, the same attitude toward information is so familiar from the political side of the Harper government that it hardly registers as newsworthy.

- In fairness, though, surely it's all worth it given how the Harper government is getting Canada noticed around the world.

- Barbara Yaffe is right to note that the litigation surrounding B.C.'s HST petition has helped to highlight the role of the Harper government in imposing the regressive tax scheme. But let's not forget that for all Jim Flaherty's efforts to distance himself from the HST after the fact, he was cheerleading for it long before anybody took the Cons up on their offer.

- Finally, Murray Mandryk atones for yesterday's press release by getting to the crux of the issue of how the provincial and federal governments should handle potash ownership:
(M)aybe now would be a good time for the potash companies to tell the real shareholders of this resource -- the Saskatchewan people -- what's in this takeover bid for them. Instead of settling for the usual easily-made, easily-broken pie crust promises of local corporate office jobs, maybe we should be demanding the next PotashCorp owner commit to a more fair and equitable royalty regime with less tax holidays for mine expansion and corporate jobs.

In fact, this current bidding war for our love and affection would seem to be the perfect time for the Saskatchewan government to insist on such commitments from the potash industry.

On equality

Paul Hanley's piece on equality in the Star-Phoenix (summarizing and commenting on Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett's The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone) is definitely worth a read. But it's worth highlighting the sad contrast between the results of Wilkinson and Pickett's research and the current state of political discussion:
(M)ore equal societies -- those where the difference in average incomes is less -- are better in almost every way.

The authors look at almost every social measure, from mental and physical health to violence and educational attainment, from social relations and teen pregnancy to imprisonment and longevity. In all cases, where there is a smaller gap between the average incomes of poorer and richer strata of society, people are generally healthier, happier, better adjusted, better educated and more socially cohesive.
Wilkinson and Pickett argue that equality is actually better for the rich, too. Wealthy people in more equal societies enjoy better physical and mental health and higher security than the rich in unequal societies.

For Wilkinson and Pickett, there are clear limitations to the benefits wealth can deliver. Statistics clearly show that past a certain point, say an average annual income of $20,000 per year per person, there are few benefits to having more money. People with incomes above that level are not happier or healthier, even though they can afford more stuff.
Given that greater equality is indeed a key factor in overall well-being, there should be plenty of room to actually promote and pursue policies that would make greater equality an end goal - rather than accepting the assumption that generating all the more wealth for the already-wealthy has to be the overriding priority for governments at all levels. And hopefully the reminder that a more equal society produces better results for everybody involved will serve as a spur for the Canadian left to develop and present a vision of what that can look like in the future, rather than spending as much time as it does defending hard-won gains against attacks from the corporatist right.

(H/t to @JaimeWGarcia.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

On target

For all the Libs trying to pretend that there's some principle behind their decision to hand the Cons all the fund-raising fodder they could possibly want if it means putting pressure on the NDP, Nelson Wiseman has the answer:
Nelson Wiseman, a political-science professor at the University of Toronto, said the debate around the long-gun registry is symbolic, not practical.

"In my opinion the long-gun registry has effectively been scrapped in the sense that no one is being compelled now to register," said Wiseman.

"The issue is primarily about the Conservatives trying to widen the wedge within both parties, and I think that's smart politics. I'm not being critical of it. I'm saying, this is how the game is played."
So do the Libs want to keep on playing the same games as the Cons, or are they trying to pretend to be something different?

Deep thought

I know I feel more secure knowing that thanks to the Cons' fiscal acumen, we're paying twice the price being charged to Australia for the same F-35s. Because if we don't gratuitously throw money into the military-industrial complex, the Taliban wins.

The poll dancing continues

Apparently it's officially Dishonest Health Care Poll Interpretation Month, as the Globe and Mail also serves up a doozy of a spin of the CMA's poll on health care to the effect that respondents think it's just peachy to torch any semblance of a universal system.

So let's set the record straight. Based on the CMA's polling, more Canadians are concerned with declines in coverage and quality than they are with paying taxes to support the health care system Canadians should be able to expect from their government. And the fact that respondents still place those issues first even after years of being brow-beaten with fictional claims about health care being unsustainable should speak volumes about the difference of opinion between Canadians at large and the elites who are seeking to demolish one of our important points of national pride.

Argument by wilful blindness

Shorter Star-Phoenix editorial board:

It's entirely the Saskatchewan NDP's fault that we can't be bothered to figure out what it's been doing over the summer.

Tuesday Morning Links

- Don Pittis finds an important lesson in the PCS takeover reports, noting the importance of Crowns past and present in building wealth where it would otherwise have been siphoned off:
The huge value the market is placing on Potash Corp. reminds us that despite the current ideological tide against these kinds of entities, government corporations remain part of our economic tool chest.

Some fail but that is true of all endeavours. When they are successful, they can accumulate capital that may take years to show its value.

They can create new business when no one else is willing to invest. They can create wealth and power. And if you don't believe me, ask the Chinese. They have plenty of government-owned corporations that are said to want in on this bidding war as well.
- The Hill Times' report on the Cons' plan to set up their own committee system to bypass that less-easily-controlled one in Parliament manages to completely miss a rather important question: does anybody really think the problem with the Harper government is that it hasn't been insular enough? (And it's particularly odd that Marlene Jennings fails to raise the point in her response on behalf of the Libs.)

- Sheila Copps has the right response to immigrant-bashing from the Cons and their media division at QMI:
Historically, most Canadian national leaders have avoided the divisive tendencies that can infect all politicians. They usually are the ones calling for calm, asking the population to reach out to fellow world citizens in need.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has determined that fear and loathing is more effective than bridge building. He has been very successful, thus far, in convincing the rest of us that this boatload of people is truly nothing more than Tamil terrorists.

Had Prime Ministers Joe Clark and Pierre Trudeau followed that path, we would never have opened our hearts to 50,000 boat people.

This time, Canada won't be getting a United Nations award.

Instead, we mount the barricades to keep 492 war torn souls from finding peace. Is that really the new face of Canada?
- Don't worry about the fact that Environment Canada's weather service programs which would otherwise provide vital information about our environment are falling apart at the seams due to cutbacks after the Cons blew billions of dollars of "environmental" funding on the most wasteful programs on the planet. After all, surely we can all agree to a gut feeling that the wind is blowing however best suits the Cons.

(Update: Or maybe the Cons actually do care about accurate information when it's their Supreme Leader's safety at stake. It's just the rest of us who aren't important enough to merit the same consideration.)

- And finally, great work by the Rev. Paperboy, Alison and Pale in their updated status report on Canada Inc.:

Case in point

Verbatim Jeffrey Simpson:
BHP, like others before it, will pledge that the head office will remain in Canada, that decisions will be made in the Saskatchewan/Canadian interest. It can’t be blamed for advancing this argument; rather, the blame should be shared by those who swallow the argument whole.
Shorter Murray Mandryk:
Sweet! The President of BHP Billiton's Diamonds and Special Products Division will let me print an entire column of his spin! All hail our international corporate overlords!!!
(Edit: fixed typo.)

Monday, August 23, 2010

On contrasting goals

Needless to say, it's a plus to see the Canadian Association of Police Boards joining the chorus slamming the Harper Cons' decision to gut the long-form census. But it's worth pointing out as well how nicely the census issue highlights the difference between the Cons and...well, anybody who wants to accomplish anything useful in any policy area.

It's fairly obvious why both police forces and the Cons tend to agree in wanting to talk about crime - the police because it's their job, the Cons because it's a signature issue. But it's only the former who are actually interested in measuring what works to make sure we're actually making progress - while for the Cons, the less reliable information there is available, the better in getting Canadians to feel fear even when it isn't based in fact.

On reinforcement

The latest reporting on New Brunswick's election this fall includes an interesting parallel between Roger Duguay's message and that of some disaffected federal Cons - as both are rightly pointing out the problems with funnelling public money toward corporate interests. Here's Duguay:
NDP Leader Roger Duguay said his priority would be to stabilize deficits and stop "wasteful government spending," adding that he would eliminate grants and forgivable loans to companies for the next five years.

"Most of the time it's not the best place to put our money," he said.
Needless to say, the proposal to shut off the taps to the corporate sector makes for a rather useful explanation as to what the NDP would do differently than its competitors to ensure that New Brunswick's provincial budget is managed responsibly.

And it only helps that Duguay's message is nicely paralleled by someone who's not normally an NDP ally, as Tasha Kheiridden has picked an opportune time to level criticism at federal Libs and Cons alike for wasting federal money to subsidize the likes of J.D. Irving:
(The Harper) government is all too happy to dole out regional cash, whether through Canada’s Economic Action Plan or outright make-work projects (witness last week’s announcement of a payroll centre in Miramichi, N.B., to replace jobs lost there if the gun registry goes belly-up).

So where does this leave Canadian taxpayers? Playing angel investor to businesses that don’t pay back money, while...the government turns a blind eye.
Of course, it remains to be seen how well the theme will resonate at both levels of government. But the reinforcement of Duguay's message in the national press has to help matters as the New Brunswick NDP looks to win over voters who may not have considered the party as an option before. And the more citizens ask the question of whether governments should be looking out for corporate interests at their expense, the easier it will be to persuade them that it's worth voting for a party who won't.

On tough climbs

Having earlier provided my own rebuttal in principle to the John Wright's idea that the national parties should give up on Quebec, I'll offer a brief observation as to why Chantal Hebert's column today seems to miss the mark slightly.
(I)f the Liberals, for one, were ever seriously going to think about giving up on Quebec, they would — in the same spirit — have to question whether to continue to put resources in any province west of Ontario.

In 2008, the first-place Conservatives won a bigger share of the popular vote in Manitoba (48.9 per cent), Saskatchewan (54 per cent), Alberta (65 per cent), and British Columbia (44.5 per cent) than the Bloc (38 per cent) did in Quebec.

The Liberals on the other hand earned 24 per cent of the popular vote in Quebec against only 19 per cent in Manitoba and British Columbia, 15 per cent in Saskatchewan and a measly 11 per cent in Alberta.

When all is said and done, the Liberals actually face a less steep electoral hill in Quebec than anywhere in Western Canada.

It has been a few decades since the Liberals have done well in Alberta and Saskatchewan but only ten years ago that Jean Chrétien won 44 per cent of the popular vote in Quebec, finishing the 2000 campaign five points ahead of the Bloc.
Now, there's probably room for argument as to exactly how steep the electoral hill is in any given region. But Hebert actually signals without acknowledging one of the reasons why the Libs (and to a lesser extent the Cons) might see other regions as potentially more fertile ground for improvement from their current base of support.

After all, the Libs' standing as the default federalist party in Quebec allowed them to build up both substantial riding-level war chests and incumbency advantages in dozens of seats. So their results from 2006 and 2008 can fairly easily be seen to reflect the most resources the party can possibly expect to put into the province - and the result was to come up somewhat short even at a time when less of the vote was being split with the NDP.

Which means that one can make a fairly strong argument that the Libs might have better luck directing their resources toward provinces where they might break new ground, rather than re-fighting the same battles they've lost over the past few election cycles.

And the same goes for the Cons, if perhaps to a lesser extent. In the absence of particularly strong riding-level operations, they poured in money from outside the province to support star candidates like Michael Fortier in Vaudreuil-Soulanges - only to see that effort fall flat as soon as the party became the Bloc's main target. And that largely explains their choice to direct efforts toward flipping Lib seats in B.C. and Ontario rather than launching another all-out attack on the Bloc.

All of which leaves the NDP as the only national party that can claim to be within striking distance of gains in Quebec without having yet tested the limits of its ability to win votes. But the combination of federalist vote splits and the Bloc's apparent ability to successfully take down any one national opponent would at least offer an argument against putting too much effort into the province - even if I wouldn't agree with it.

To sum up, then, any examination of how steep a climb any party faces toward winning a seat has to take into account the previous efforts that have fallen short. And there's at least some reason to think that the Libs and Cons may face diminishing returns in continuing to make Quebec a primary focus.

On lost mandates

I'm sure any day now we'll see Stephen Harper condemning Tony Abbott's reach for power from a party which doesn't hold a plurality of seats based on an arguable repudiation of the government in power:
Mr Abbott claimed Labor had lost its majority and lost its "legitimacy" to govern.
"I think the public expect a change of government as a result of yesterday's result."
And if not, then we'll have every reason to use exactly the same arguments if (as seems likely) the Cons themselves lose seats and legitimacy when the next Canadian election rolls around.

Mr. Hill's prior statements are no longer operative

Kristen Shane highlights a fairly classic difference in spin between John Baird and Jay Hill over the latter's replacement as the Cons' House Leader which speaks volumes about why Hill may well have been frustrated by "excessive control":
"I think if you ask Mr. Hill, he would tell you he requested to step down," said Mr. Baird.

When asked whether he would have wanted to keep his government house leader job until the next election, Mr. Hill responded to The Hill Times last week: "I was willing and continue to be willing to serve in whatever capacity the Prime Minister would ask of me."

He was in a remote part of his riding late last week and unable to respond to further questions about whether he was indeed frustrated by a high level of PMO control over his office, as opposition members suggest.
Of course, the obvious contrast will lead to a rather interesting test of Hill's independence until the next election. Presumably there isn't much Harper can use against him now that he's been removed from any position of particular influence and doesn't need to worry about re-election - so he would seem to have a golden opportunity to not only stick up for his own views, but also provide some perspective on exactly how stifling Harper has been from the inside.

But on the other hand, the rest of Hill's partymates are still trapped in Harper's cult of personality, and may well prefer not to have to defend that fact in the face of somebody telling inconvenient truths. So it won't be too much surprise - and indeed would entirely in keeping with the Cons' practices - for Hill to either declare that he simply misunderstood his own intentions in order to protect the Supreme Leader's infallibility, or be permanently sent to "a remote part of his riding".

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday Afternoon Links

A few links to close out your summer weekend...

- Dr. Dawg points out another example of the Con-friendly noise machine being set up by the Harper government using public resources - this time in the promotion of a set of religious-right actors who are being treated as if they speak for all First Nations communities.

- And of course, that cultivation of lackeys willing to bow to the will of Big Daddy fits in all too well with Alex Himelfarb's post on the Harper government's transition from a welfare state to a security state.

- A couple of NDP podcasts worth a listen: MP Megan Leslie and candidate Peter Thurley on housing issues, and an introduction to Edmonton-Leduc candidate Artem Medvedev.

- Finally, for those following the Saskatchewan NDP's Regina Northeast nomination race, the vote has been set for September 30.

Dealing in lies

As others have pointed out, John Geddes' piece on how the RCMP was ordered not to be honest about the positive effects of Insite is well worth a read. But it's worth noting that the RCMP angle is just one piece of the story as to how the Cons have manipulated public discussion on the issue of drug policy - as one can see by examining how the groups commissioned to do the RCMP's dirty work have been treated by the Harper government.

Here's Geddes on the background to one of the flawed reports criticizing research on Insite which the RCMP acknowledged to have been improperly commissioned:
The RCMP asked for two more reports, by Garth Davies, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, and Colin Mangham, research director of the Drug Prevention Network of Canada, a group opposed to Insite’s harm-reduction model, founded by former Conservative MP Randy White. Both were sharply critical of the academic literature. Mangham faulted the research into Insite for failing to discuss the fact that “only a small percentage of IV drug users use Insite for even a majority of their injections.” Davies cast doubt on the statistical validity of the whole body of research into safe injection facilities, including those in Europe. But neither review was published in a peer-reviewed journal, the usual sign that an academic paper stands up to expert scrutiny.
By last October, the RCMP seemed ready to fess up to the shortcomings of its bid to generate critiques of the centre’s research. “Soon after Insite was opened, the RCMP commissioned several reviews on the impact of supervised injecting facilities, including Insite,” Harriman said in his email proposing “messaging” for a joint media release. “These reviews, conducted by Cohen and Corrado, concluded that supervised injecting facilities, including Insite, were associated with positive impacts. Subsequent reviews were commissioned by the RCMP or one of its affiliates (i.e. the Addictive Drug Information Council) to provide an alternative analysis of the existing [supervised injection facility] research. The RCMP recognizes that these reviews did not meet conventional academic standards.” Harriman’s email admits the police should never have waded into the debate: “The RCMP is not qualified to comment or engage in discussion over the merits of this research.”
Senior RCMP officers might have been ready back in 2008 to acknowledge the “extensive body” of studies on the benefits of supervised injection sites, but federal cabinet ministers have never accepted anything of the sort. A key figure in the saga is Clement. At the 2007 annual meeting of the Canadian Medical Association, he took the doctors to task over the CMA’s support for Insite. Clement claimed there was “academic debate going on” over the research into supervised injection, and alluded to new studies “questioning of the research that has already taken place.”

It’s likely he was referring to the critique of Insite produced for the RCMP, given that his remarks came a few months after Mangham’s review was posted on the Internet.
What Geddes doesn't cover, however, is the fact that while the RCMP has recognized that the research from Mangham and his group fell short, the Cons have done nothing of the sort after using it to manufacture dissent about the effectiveness of Insite. In fact, at last notice the Drug Prevention Network of Canada was still one of the Harper government's hand-picked participants in its advisory committee on drugs.

Which is to say that the RCMP's genuine effort to wrestle with the question of what to do about its involvement in a flawed study stands in stark contrast to what the Harper Cons have done. Indeed, this serves as another example of the Cons encouraging the development of policy by biased and well-connected parties based on inaccurate information. And there's little reason to think that the RCMP will improve their willingness to make decisions based on sound evidence as long as they're taking instructions from a government so averse to reality.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Simple answers to simple questions

Phillippe Gohier:
Whatever happened to Interprovincial Affairs?
It ran into the reality that the Harper Cons aren't any more interested in accomplishing anything socially useful working with the provinces than they are at the federal level.

On selective disclosure

Steve and Sun Media Watch have thoroughly eviscerated Fox News North's choice to release a three-week-old poll as "news" while claiming it to be the result of events in the meantime. But those obvious problems with today's poll aside, I have to wonder if QMI's obvious intention to operate as the media wing of the federal Cons offers an additional reason not to trust their publicly-released polling.

The issue may not be as frequently discussed in Canadian politics since internal polls aren't generally released to the public. But south of the border where politicians often release internal poll results where it suits their interests, there's a distinction drawn between two distinct types of polls. Media polls are generally seen as relatively more credible, since they tend to be made public regardless of the results: after all, most news outlets would rather take the easy story of reporting on new poll results than suppress anything to serve a political master. In contrast, party/candidate polling is taken with due skepticism since it's never released unless it helps the source.

But what happens if a media outlet were to decide that it wanted to use its polling resources to create a steady supply of good news for its preferred party? It would seem to be simple enough to commission multiple polls, releasing only the ones that serve the interests of its political masters. And given that QMI is willing to be dishonest about the timing and interpretation of the poll it released today, would anybody be surprised in the least if it was also the first news outlet in Canada to decide that it's only going to release poll results that favour one side?

The decision to detain

The Star's report on the handling of security at the G20 summit is definitely worth a read on a few fronts, including its repeated revelations about the uncertainty as to who was in charge and its observation that there was significant disagreement even among the police about the tactics used against citizens.

But it's worth noting that the most important questions about direct responsibility for a deliberate decision to lock up civilians without cause have yet to be answered - which is particularly problematic when the police involved still don't seem to accept the problems with that choice:
After what a police source called a heated internal debate, senior officers decided to detain hundreds of people — a jumble of alleged suspects, peaceful protesters and curious onlookers who had drifted too close.

“Quite frankly, a lot of people came down because they wanted to be part of the action,” Blair said. “Instead they became part of the problem.”

Citing an internal police review that is now underway, Blair would not comment on who ordered the corralling. Supts. Ferguson and Fenton, who oversaw the command centre, declined to be interviewed for this story.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Musical interlude

Sneaker Pimps - Bloodsport

Friday Afternoon Links

A few notes for the end of your work week...

- There's good news out of British Columbia today, as the HST petition looks to be back on track following the rejection of a corporate effort to have the petition ruled invalid.

- Tom Flanagan's bizarre commentary on the census has already been discussed extensively elsewhere. But I'll note the part that strikes me as most out of place: how exactly can one use a desire for "rational debate" to apologize for a government which has actively refused to say anything even remotely rational on the subject?

- Brian Topp's post on the Harper Cons' electoral math is certainly worth a read. But it's worth noting that while the Cons' overall support has largely stayed the same, its distribution has changed a few times over the years - ranging from efforts to woo Quebec to attempts to build a majority through ethnic communities before the Cons' current retreat to their hard-right base. And that may make for the most damning end result of all for Harper's reign as leader: not only have the Cons failed to get into majority territory, they've also fallen short while trying out the all of the most promising paths to get there.

- Finally, the Globe and Mail's article on the Cons' municipal campaign school points out some shady dealings that have been duly criticized. But the more important takeaway should be that the right is hard at work trying to extend its influence to all levels of government - and it doesn't do anybody any favours for the left to respond by declining to get similarly coordinated.

"No women are ever invited to the party"

Guess which of Canada's political parties is home to a (usually-)annual event - held by a current Senator and campaign manager - which is so fixated on preserving an old-boys club that it has yet to invite a woman over a period of decades.


On public interests

As the possibility circulates that the Cons might turn the CRTC into the Fox News North Development Agency, Steve Anderson offers a useful reminder of what the agency has done right:
(T)he CRTC recognizes its own limitations within a highly contested space, and feels political pressure from the Conservative government, which is very cozy with big media and big telecom companies. These companies also bombard the CRTC with their own arguments and narratives. Commissioners attend their conferences, the firms have a small army of lobbyists, and indeed there is a revolving door between the CRTC and industry that means many decision-makers come from the industry they are supposed to regulate.

But recent rulings suggest that the CRTC can do the right thing when faced with public pressure. It is our job to engage the CRTC, to be a force within the highly contested space of media policy, so as to give them the energy to push back against industry and the Conservative government that often acts on its behalf. If the public is engaged en masse, the CRTC can be transformed into the public institution it is supposed to be.
Of course, the CRTC's independence in other rulings will all too likely make it even more of a target for the Harper government than it might otherwise have been. So while it's indeed important to be heard by the CRTC as it stands now, it's equally so to make sure that the Cons can't make irreversible changes as part of their effort to destroy Canada's public institutions.

Well said

Janet Bagnall challenges the patently false claim that Canada can't afford an effective public health care system:
Governments of various leanings have for years been plastering the word "unsustainable" all over our health care system. Hospital costs? Impossible to maintain. Doctors' salaries? Unaffordable. Pharmaceutical costs? Spiralling out of control. Canadians' expectations? Totally unrealistic.

Intentionally or not, it's been a masterful propaganda operation. But that doesn't make it any truer. Canadians know the health-care system they rightly view as a defining Canadian characteristic is worth saving. This week, a poll showed that 61 per cent of Canadians want the healthcare system to be improved through greater efficiencies; 28 per cent want more taxes to be spent on health care even if that means cutting other public services; and only 11 per cent think rising healthcare costs should be handled privately.

If after all these years, barely one in 10 Canadians think paying more out of their own pockets is the only way to improve the health-care system, it goes to show how ineffective the campaign undermining a publicly funded, equitable health-care system has been.
Medicare spending eats up roughly the same proportion of provincial revenues as it did 20 years ago, Evans told the MPs. "The problem isn't uncontrolled public healthcare spending," Evans said, according to a statement. "It's uncontrolled private health spending combined with a drop in provincial revenues created by large tax cuts over the years."

Publicly funded costs might look like they have increased, but that's because federal and provincial governments went on a massive tax-cutting mission between 1997 and 2004, resulting in the loss of $170.8 billion from public-sector revenues, according to Evans. With the public revenue pie smaller - $35 billion a year smaller at the provincial level - of course the share consumed by public health care spending looked like it was bigger.

On politicized decisions

Murray Mandryk is right to point out that the Wall government is injecting a massive amount of politics into the dealings of potash companies in Saskatchewan, handing a massive subsidy to Mosaic even as it calls for a review of a possible takeover of the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan by BHP Billiton. But it's worth noting that its meddling was entirely predictable.

Keep in mind that the Sask Party has set an explicit goal of fabricating a "visible culmination" of its plans to cater to big business. And Mosaic is the first company mentioned by name in that effort:
A list of final investment decisions...in 2010 and 2011 includes:
* Accelerate the final Head Office decision of Mosaic Corporation...
And that decision has indeed been accelerated - by a handout of tens of millions of dollars to an already-profitable corporation. Which makes this the most glaring example yet of the Wall government not only picking winners and losers, but showering public money on the former. And that in turn makes the decision to then hire a Sask Party-friendly consultant to make sure that the selected loser isn't even allowed to play something less than surprising.

Of course, there are also legitimate reasons to want the PCS takeover to be thoroughly reviewed based on the question of whether a takeover is actually in Canada's best interests. But the Sask Party has already made it clear that its top priority is instead the insistence on holding Brad Wall's choice of photo ops before the 2011 election regardless of how much cost there is to the public. And that narrow short-term focus ensures that in the long run, it's the citizens of Saskatchewan who will lose out.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The tired old refrain

And in related news, the Cons are aghast that anybody is still talking about the census when the story has been around for weeks.

Deep thought

Silly Don Martin with his suggestion that the Cons are up to more political games with the gun registry. Of course it makes perfect sense that the French skills which weren't a problem when Marty Cheliak was first put in charge of the Canadian Firearms Program nine months ago would be a fatal flaw now.

Villainous but familiar

There's little reason to argue with Kady's take on the Cons' reported plans for the CRTC - including pushing aside all independent voices in order to put Pierre Karl Péladeau's right hand man in charge of evaluating Péladeau's application to force Canadians to fund Fox News North.

But while it's right to see the mooted elevation of Luc Lavoie as "cartoon villain-like", I wouldn't think the mindset should be seen as anything new. After all, can the idea of Lavoie in charge of the CRTC really be seen as any more galling or flagrantly partisan than, say, the nomination of longtime Con bagman Gwyn Morgan to be responsible for making public appointments non-partisan?

Not yet forgotten

With the Cons doing everything in their power to change the subject from their choice to gut the census, it's worth a reminder that their limited document dump so far leaves entirely unanswered the questions of who raised the idea and why. Which brings us to Haroon Siddiqui:
(I)n axing the compulsory long form for next year’s census, Tony Clement, minister in charge of Statistics Canada, repeatedly claimed that that was one of the options the agency gave him.

Yet we do not see that in the 200 or so memos and emails released last week in response to a request by a House of Commons committee. Several documents had been blacked out. Others may be missing.

Also, last week Clement denied an assertion made in this column that he had opposed the decision but had been overruled by Stephen Harper and that he was privately telling friends that “that’s what the boss wanted.”

His office demanded a retraction. I refused and suggested that the minister take me to task in a letter to the editor, which he did: “I did not say the words Mr. Siddiqui attributes to me. I support the decision and participated in this decision from the get-go.”

Regardless of the exact words used, his actual position can easily be ascertained if he were to release the papers outlining his recommendation to the Prime Minister.

Needed, therefore, are internal documents showing the advice Clement got from StatsCan and the advice he gave the PMO.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

On contrasts

Pogge offers one suggestion as to how Michael Ignatieff and the Libs can respond to Stephen Harper's latest coalition talk, suggesting that they focus on explaining how Harper is fundamentally wrong about Canada's democratic system. But I'll argue that while there are times where opposition parties should focus on educating the public, this isn't one of them.

After all, if the coalition question is going to be a major election issue, then the opposition line of attack will need to involve a substantial clash on the values underlying the possibility. And simply pointing out that Harper is lying about the what Canadian democracy actually consists of doesn't accomplish much on that front.

Instead, the better course of action is to frame the debate over the parties' political options (including a coalition) in terms of principle. And there's plenty of room to do that in a way that can inflict political damage on the Cons.

Indeed, one could hardly design a central issue that works better to emphasize the Harper Cons' negatives. When a government already seen as secretive, controlling and hyperpartisan makes an explicit appeal for the absolute power that comes with a majority, it should be an obvious retort to point out just how much worse Harper would be if he got his wish.

That part of the equation fits reasonably well with the Libs' current position. But in order to provide a meaningful differentiation, the Libs will also need to be willing to defend the principle of cooperative politics which they've shied away from so far - developing the contrast between themselves and the Cons as open- vs. closed-minded, cooperative vs. inflammatory, and public- vs. self-interested.

So far, the Libs' desire to form power on their own has severely limited their willingness to develop that message. But based on the reality that the Libs haven't been able to take on the Cons in a party-to-party fight in recent years, they'd be ill-advised to throw away the opportunity.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Wednesday Morning Links

This and that for your mid-week reading...

- Is there any doubt that if the numbers in its health-care polling (28% for aising taxes to better fund health care investing more in health care at the expense of other programs, 11% for encouraging private payment) were reversed, Ipsos Reid would be breathlessly trumpeting that "more than twice as many people support two-tier health care as expanding the public system!" rather than declaring that neither is a popular option?

But have no fear: having failed to get numbers that can be spun in that direction, they're instead helpfully declaring that the other 89% of Canadians will have no choice but to bow to the will of the one in ten who want to put health care up for sale.

(Update/correction: Ian rightly notes in comments that there's an even more significant "heads privatization wins, tails the public system loses" aspect to the question, as the option to increase health funding comes from the same size of "tax-dollar pie". Which all the better reflects the corporatist attitude: don't even make it an option for people to choose to pay the amount of tax required to provide valuable public services, lest it prove to be the most popular.)

- Dave raises what would be a good point if the Harper Cons had shown the least bit of inclination to operate in reality or respect international laws. But would anybody really put it past them to make a show of introducing legislation to appear tough on refugees, even knowing that it's utterly unenforceable in several different ways?

- Philip Slayton's article last week is certainly a useful starting point for a discussion of what role the judiciary should play in shaping public policy. But much as I'd like to see improved access to information from all levels of government, I'm not sure that I agree entirely with Slayton's concerns about the decision in Ontario v. Criminal Lawyers' Association. After all, it's a fairly large leap from the Supreme Court of Canada's application of the Charter in cases where individual rights are obviously implicated to the establishment of new rights related to access to information - and I'm not sure the court could have been expected to move the boundaries any further than it did.

- Finally, Chantal Hebert's latest points out the difference between leaders who have actually had use for new ideas, and the Harper Cons who have been dedicated entirely to clinging to old ones as a rationale for destroying recent progress.